- Review by Kaya Savas - 8/1/16
When you think of spy movies you have the obvious ones (James Bond), the modern ones (Mission Impossible) and of course the revisionist ones (Jason Bourne). The original Bourne trilogy ushered in a genre-defining action espionage thriller that eventually infused itself into the way we approach action filmmaking. Hell, even Quantum Of Solace was compared to being “Bourne-like”. Doug Liman’s first entry was more of a refined and focused conspiracy thriller, but when Paul Greengrass took over it evolved into a highly kinetic "cat and mouse" espionage extravaganza. Smooth tracking shots were kicked out and handheld was in! The result, a purely energetic and thrilling (if sometimes dizzying) exercise in practical action filmmaking. A big part of the whole experience was the music by John Powell. John came in late in the game to replace Carter Burwell on the first project. The shortened timeframe and need for a propulsive action score resulted in a highly electronic approach with what is seemingly a simple melodic theme. The genius of the simplicity, and Powell’s more complex electronic textures actually gave Bourne his identity (sorry for that pun). The following two films built on that success and John was able to add some additional motifs to the film and craft some of the best modern action scoring in recent memory.
So let’s fast-forward to Jason Bourne. This film is ignoring Tony Gilroy’s failed attempt at spinning the franchise off. Clearly things didn’t end well in that relationship between Damon, Greengrass and Gilroy. This time around, Greengrass wrote the film with his editor Christopher Rouse. Getting Powell to come back was essential as well. John had taken a break from live-action filmmaking and focused mostly on animation save for Pan recently. He discusses that in-depth in our All Access interview, be sure to check that out. It’s common knowledge that Paul Greengrass is also a very demanding director, but somehow Powell was able to handle his needs and personality. Powell wouldn’t return to work with Greengrass on Captain Phillips as he was on a 2 year break from composing overall. But when things came along with Jason Bourne and the old band was going to get back together, Powell’s involvement was essential and he returned. Unfortunately, the timing couldn't have been more terrible. John’s beloved wife, Melinda Lerner passed away. An experience he addressed from his own words on his public Facebook artist page.
As a fan of Powell’s work and he as a person, my heart was sympathetically heavy as his family and friends had to go through that. In that time of need, he was able to rely on David Buckley to be his co-composer, and gracefully help handle the needs of the film. The resulting score is another great entry in the franchise that John Powell ignited with his music 14 years ago.
First off, the score album will give you a great taste of what is being brought to the table this time around. I think if you listen to this album before seeing the film you might unfairly label it as a watered down version of Bourne. In the film you’ll notice way more reappropriation of original themes from the past Bourne adventures, except this time they were rearranged to fit the flow of the movie. Powell’s protege, Batu Sener is credited with additional music and arrangements on the score, and I’m sure his first-hand knowledge with John’s music was key in rearranging some of the classic Bourne melodies into this one. The action set pieces are fantastic, and the score does a great job of adding that propulsive progression. You can definitely hear David Buckley’s influence on the music, his sound pops through and meshes very nicely with John’s overtones and style. Buckley’s more shimmering and sustaining strings give this score a more unique sound that the others don’t have. Powell loves his brass instruments, and if Powell does use strings they usually oscillate or flutter, very much like the Bourne theme itself. David's more blanketing style helped add a sense of calmness and brooding during those tension building moments. This way, the score wasn't all just bombastic percussion and electronics. Overall, the music is another great entry in a genre-defining franchise that shows the formula is still entertaining as hell.
Jason Bourne as a film overall feels like a great continuation of the action franchise we’ve known and loved. If the franchise were to continue, we’d probably need a new plot direction to move in as the whole “Treadstone” thing has been played out as far as it can go at this point. The score by John Powell and David Buckley did its best to give Bourne something a little more layered and sonically shifted than the past 3. What you don’t hear in the album is the amount of rearranging of older Bourne melodies that made up a bulk of the first act of the film. Knowing how Greengrass works, I’m sure that was a non negotiable order. But hey, I actually enjoyed hearing some of those classic melodies reworked into the new fabric of this score. Bourne will always be some of Powell’s most defining scores, and it was fantastic to see a team of support rally behind him to help him make Jason Bourne another great entry in the franchise.