‘Bourne’ reboot needs to break from mold; Streep, Jones superb in ‘Hope Springs’

If “The Bourne Legacy” is a reboot of the successful trilogy that
featured Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, will subsequent movies, like the
book series, continue to use Bourne in the title?

Given what Jason Bourne had to go through the three previous films,
“Identity,” Supremacy” and “Ultimatum,” he seems to be deserving of a
peaceful retirement. So now we have Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), yet
another skilled and genetically upgraded professional
assassin/operative.

The U.S. government just cannot resist dispatching these super
operatives out into the world. The government does have a winning
card — these people have been very successful, particularly in
thwarting terrorist activities, but as the Jason Bourne episodes
dramatically showed, things can go awry.

The contingency plan is a nasty one. You don’t just recall these people,
give them a hefty severance and generous pension and tell them to disappear
into a sublime retirement. You literally pull the plug — on their lives.

When that pesky reporter Simon Ross continues to expose the details
of Operation Blackbriar and Project Treadstone — the plans that
unleashed Bourne and others — the directive goes out from Eric Byer
(Edward Norton), a retired Air Force colonel now buried within the
bowels of U.S. covert headquarters, to terminate the project. Byer
has that perpetual disease of covert operations leaders — he would
rather wipe out the program, erasing lives in the process, rather
than face a congressional hearing.

Meanwhile, Cross is in the unforgiving wilderness of Alaska,
training and serving as a lab rat, taking body- and mind-enhancing
drugs and submitting occasional blood samples. Suddenly a drone
appears and blows up the cabin where he was enjoying some R&R. Now
short on drugs, with the supply being blown to smithereens, Cross
heads south the main part of the continent to re-up his meds.

Elsewhere, one of the scientists conducting research on Cross and
others, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), sees her world thrown into
disarray when one of her colleagues goes berserk, shoots up the lab,
killing several co-workers, before committing suicide. As if that is
not enough, Marta soon discovers she is a target for termination.
Luckily, Cross shows up. Shearing had done some lab workups on him,
and he assumes she can get him more meds.

“The Bourne Legacy” is an example of the new genre — the
techno-action adventure. These films include lots of footage of
people in dark, windowless rooms loaded with computer monitors and
communications gadgetry, dominated by big screens. These rooms and
the people in them are plugged into the world. From there they
seemingly can track down anybody, anywhere.

“Legacy” becomes a chase movie as Cross and Shearing try to outrun a
techno-aided posse, including super-assassin LARX #3 (Louis Ozawa
Changchien), as they race to the Philippines, where Shearing can make
Cross permanently upgraded but without the pills.

“The Bourne Legacy” features the usual inner sanctum suits — Stacy
Keach, Scott Wilson and David Straitharn — working feverishly on
damage control, being outwitted by a guy carrying a backpack. This is
a cookie-cooker action flick, highly predictable.

Renner has the exceptional physical prowess to be Aaron Cross.
Let’s hope that in subsequent movies in the series he is given more
to do than run for his life.

On a more gentle track is the baby boomer romantic comedy “Hope
Springs.” It is a familiar story of an aging couple, after three
decades of marriage, in a daily rut with the passion and excitement
of young love being a distant and fading memory.

What makes “Hope Springs” a delight is the pairing of two well
established pros — Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones — as the
couple. Based on a down-to-earth script by Vanessa Taylor, who
interestingly is currently busy as a producer and writer for “Game of
Thrones,” “Hope Springs” is an actors’ delight and few in the
business today can produce the silent nuances in performances like
Streep and Jones.

They are perfectly cast as Arnold and Kay, Omaha-based and married
31 years, now empty-nesters. He is an accountant who in the evening
falls asleep in front of the TV, which is broadcasting a golf
instruction program. Kay works in a clothing store and dutifully
cooks meals. They have long stopped sleeping together. Their
anniversary gifts usually are home maintenance products.

As the movie begins, Streep shows why she is the most nominated
actor in Academy Awards history. She is in her bathroom, trying to
primp herself up, hoping for a night of intimacy with Arnold, a real
break in the routine. Yet in her face you can see Kay’s anticipation
and anxiety — an almost imperceptible concession this is going to be
a failure.

Later, in a bookstore, Kay comes across a marriage counseling book
by Dr. Feld (Steve Carell), who also offers intense counseling
sessions. Kay makes an appointment for a week-long set of sessions
with Dr. Feld and buys plane tickets to Maine, where Dr. Feld is
based.

Naturally, Arnold wants nothing to do with going to see this shrink,
but Kay is adamant about going — alone if need be. So Arnold joins
her, but obviously his heart is not in it.

The best scenes in “Hope Springs” are when Arnold and Kay are in
session with Dr. Feld. They are seated on opposite ends of a couch,
and viewers must dart their eyes back and forth to catch the
reactions by the two people to the various comments. Carell deserves
a lot of credit for a low-key performance. Here he is in an emcee
mode, his embarrassingly probing and intimate questions serving as
stimuli to let two incredible actors play off each other.

Streep’s Kay is a woman who never really felt sexy and in fact had
no experience beyond the fundamentals of lovemaking. Now all she
wants is to have Arnold love her like he did before.

Jones here excels as the stoic man who thinks life is just fine. In
fact he may think of himself as a mature person now, not obsessed
with sex — only to learn that instead of evolving into lovemaking
beyond sex he just cut it out altogether, oblivious of an already
insecure wife now anxious she is not attractive to him anymore.

There are awkward scenes as Arnold and Kay try to reignite the
sparks — scenes that are both funny, squirm-inducing, and sometimes
sad.

The success of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” has shown that
romantically-oriented stories geared toward an older crowd can find
an audience. With two grand old stars like Streep and Jones, you get
a superbly acted movie in “Hope Springs” that is deeply honest and
ultimately optimistic.

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