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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Bourne Legacy’

Fourth film in the series doesn't star Matt Damon, but does continue humans' moral struggle with evil

3 Stars — Morally Challenging

The Bourne films, though filled with suspense and action, are really a study in ethical morality. In this fourth film, The Bourne Legacy, the ethical struggle is expressed directly to an operative who has just finished a mission in which women and children were killed. Struggling with his sense of guilt, his manager explains that while their mission was “morally reprehensible,” it was nevertheless “necessary.” Though this is an increasingly common justification voiced by political and business leaders, this film clearly demonstrates the deficiency of such thinking and behavior.

Based on the books by Robert Ludlum, this film, like the others, creates its own theme. Having been a writer on the three former films, Tony Gilroy is both director and screenwriter of this fourth one. Assisted in writing by his brother, Dan, they follow the legacy of their father, Frank Gilroy, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter.

Only referring to Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), who starred in the previous films, we are introduced to the fifth operative, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), as the central character in this tale. Also biologically enhanced by an evil corporation to become a lethal CIA assassin, it is Cross who is struggling with the morality of his missions. Becoming increasingly uneasy and paranoid, we soon discover he has reason to be both.

When retired Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton) attempts to protect Operation Outcome from public exposure, he decides to “shut down” the program. This involves killing all the operatives, including the scientists who created it. One of the scientists is Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). The only ones who escape the extermination, she and Aaron team up to save their lives. It is their struggle to survive that is primary to the action.

We are also introduced to the next level of operatives, LARX #3 (Louis Ozawa Changchien), who is a person from whom all empathy has been removed so that compassion and guilt can be eradicated. This adds to the exploration of the morality that is inherent within us as humans. The implication is that in order to create a truly effective assassin, then empathy, compassion, guilt and relationships must be removed. However, it is also clear that some humans, like Col. Byer, become so convinced of the necessity of doing evil that they have silenced their own consciences without genetic manipulation.

In The Bourne Legacy, the action is unending and the characters are well-developed. The exploration of our moral lives is complex and enlightening. Setting us up for a fifth film, we look forward to seeing how this morality struggle continues to affirm that morality matters both to us as individuals and to all of us as a society. It is this truth that defines what it means for us to be who we are.


» This film suggests that a patriot who is willing to do anything to protect our nation could cross a line that takes away our humanity. Do you believe this happens rarely or often by those who lead our nation? Why do you answer as you do?

» It is difficult to imagine why a company capable of enhancing human beings would enter into a Faustian bargain with the CIA rather than market this for mass consumption. If this were to happen in real life, do you believe this science would be used for evil? Why or why not?

» When Aaron confronted Dr. Shearing about her involvement in Operation Outcome, she claims to be in it for the science. Do you believe there are scientists who turn a blind eye to the uses of their research? If so, how can we open the eyes of researchers to the implications of their work and take responsibility for how their scientific advances are used?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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