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Except for a few still photographs and some mentions of his name, the character Jason Bourne is AWOL in "The Bourne Legacy," the fourth in the Robert Ludlum-inspired franchise and the first without star Matt Damon. The beauty of director Tony Gilroy's riveting thriller, and Jeremy Renner's compelling lead performance, is that you scarcely miss him.
Treadstone, the shadowy black-ops CIA program that made Jason Bourne a human-killing machine, is in the crosshairs at the beginning of Gilroy's script (which he wrote with his brother Dan). Disgraced CIA master Pam Landy (Joan Allen) is about to go public, and other CIA brass are in a panic. The solution, says CIA operative Eric Byer (Edward Norton), is to liquidate the program which means killing the other operatives (or "outcomes," as they're called) who received the same training and viral genetic enhancement as Bourne.
The liquidation mostly works, except for one: Aaron Cross (Renner), out there in the Alaska wilderness, who survives a drone strike and a pack of wolves. With his medication running low, Cross heads south to Virginia, where a doctor has shot up the laboratory doing the CIA's genetic research. He finds the lab's only survivor, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), before more CIA agents clean up the mess and finish her off, too.
In a stroke of cold reality, the story is structured so that Cross never meets the people who have ordered his death. Renner's Cross is constantly on the run, while Byer and his thinly identified CIA cohorts (a cast that includes Stacy Keach, Dennis Boutsikaris and Donna Murphy) work amid walls of video screens in an airless control room. The difference highlights the grim stakes of Cross' escape and the ruthless banality that is the CIA's shield against the soul-searching such a job would otherwise provoke.
Renner and Weisz make an entertaining action-movie odd couple, the terse man of action and the chatty scientist who learns fast how to react when the shooting starts. Their pairing is especially effective in an energetic climactic chase through the streets and on the rooftops of Manila a scene that's captured in all its gritty intensity by cinematographer Robert Elswit and pieced together masterfully by editor John Gilroy (the director's other brother). "The Bourne Legacy" gives this strong series a powerfully fresh spin.
'The Bourne Legacy'
The exciting spy saga continues, with Jeremy Renner starring as another genetically enhanced operative fighting for his life.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, Aug. 10.
Rating • PG-13 for violence and intense action sequences.
Running time • 135 minutes.