Review: ‘Bourne Legacy’ stars gritty Manila

Posted at 08/08/12 4:35 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Past the thrill of seeing Manila with a bird’s eye view, “The Bourne Legacy,” which opens today, August 8 in theaters, offers little else to be excited about.

The first mention of “Manila” in the action movie garnered applause from Filipino audiences during its Asian premiere at the Philippine capital – and for good reason.

Directed by Tony Gilroy, who previously wrote the film's predecessors, a significant portion of "Bourne Legacy" is set in the country, including a chase scene for the film’s climax, which kicks off at an urban poor settlement.

But apart from seeing the familiar cityscape through Hollywood lenses, audiences may find “Bourne” largely unsatisfying, due to its odd pacing, unresolved conflicts and a seemingly shoehorned closing shot that serves merely to transition to the roll-up credits.

No tourism campaign

Filipino audiences raring to see “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” in Hollywood form, however, are advised to keep their expecations in check. “Bourne” is no glowing endorsement of the country as a tourism hotspot.

While the shots are grand, they are mostly of Manila’s urban poor, its bustling districts and unimpressive infrastructures. Nowhere to be seen are its towering buildings, world-class developments and other more modern features.

And appropriately so.

For the series’ fourth installment – and the first without American actor Matt Damon – Gilroy sought a “very Bourne” setting. And Manila, according to Gilroy, was hand-picked precisely for its “gritty” look reminiscent of previous “Bourne” destinations.

In “Bourne Legacy,” Manila is shown to be the source of medicinal ingredients needed to allay the fatal condition of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a field agent on the run from execution by the same organization that trained him.

Dr. Marta Shearling (Rachel Weisz) aids Cross in his predicament, as they escape pursuit by assassins, and later, the very capable “Metro Manila Police.”

‘Mga kapit-bahay!’

Spanning years through a number of flashbacks, “Bourne” sees Renner and Weisz shine in moments of silence, more so than when they deliver their lines. Weisz is especially convincing as a traumatized scientist, whose involvement in her work put her life in danger.

Renner, meanwhile, plays the protector whose life is ticking away. Lauded for his Oscar-nominated performance in “The Hurt Locker” in 2009, Renner proves that he now has the expert marksman/gritty urban warrior role down pat.

The film’s Filipino talents definitely maximized their limited screen time, most notably, actor John Arcilla, who plays Joseph, a security guard who is shown to be an acquaintance of Weisz’s Dr. Shearling.

Among his fellow Filipino actors, Arcilla has the longest screen time -- his character is seen engaging in a conversation with Cross and Shearling, who he hesitantly allows entry to an underground facility in Manila.

Arcilla has been described as “brilliant” and “wonderful” by Gilroy and Weisz in earlier interviews. His role in “Bourne,” albeit limited, shows that Arcilla indeed merited the raves.

Actor Lou Veloso also figured in the film’s latter parts. Even with just one speaking line, Veloso was given a memorable reaction shot upon seeing an unconscious Cross and a tearful Shearling.

Perhaps the most memorable among the Filipinos actors in the film is Antonette Garcia’s “TV mom” portrayal. Garcia’s limited screen time sees her as a panicked mom after seeing a foreigner (Weisz) in her home.

City as star

The biggest “Filipino” star in the movie, however, is Manila.

While foregoing tourism-inspired shots, “Bourne” accurately shows the Philippine capital at its busiest, with its infamous traffic, criss-crossing roads and thick swarm of pedestrians.

Filipino audiences will certainly sense the familar upon seeing their city on the big screen.

The metro “tour” kicks off as Cross and Shearling are chased by the “Metro Manila Police,” from the busy streets of Pasay-Taft to the Marikina City Market and onto the Navotas Fishport.

But the chase scene, while ultimately satisfying as it is action-packed, seems unnecessarily long, considering the story threads that were left unknotted.

While Filipino audiences will find the Manila scenes electrifying, it also seems to have used up screen time that could have been devoted to resolving or at least addressing conflicts among the principal characters, or offering a denouement after the roof top-hopping, motorbike-racing thrill ride that was Manila.

Instead – spoilers ahead – audiences are shown two love birds aboard an ornate fishing boat sailing across the waters of El Nido, Palawan.

A belated tourism showing of sorts, this closing shot of “Bourne” is as genuinely breathtaking even as the story’s conclusion underwhelms.