What should we call this new breed of entertainment, lately seen on HBO’s The Newsroom and elsewhere, of bosses being vituperative, highly articulate jerks? “Asshole cinema” seems vulgar yet appropriate; the rage comes less from an inflamed Chayefskian idealism than a sheer joy in dressing down subordinates. Writer-director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) is one of the form’s chief practitioners: In The Bourne Legacy, we begin with CIA director Scott Glenn getting reamed by a grumbly Stacy Keach. Then the higher-level spook is harshly disciplined by ferocious data-analyst Edward Norton, top-dogging the top dog. Even when the movie cuts away to a lowly lab chief in Manila, the guy can be seen jabbing his finger and shouting things like “You!” or “Stay where you are!”
The problem with all of it is that we’re still discussing a movie about spies running around on rooftops. The verbal heavy-lifting gets ridiculous in light of the silliness of the story’s X-Men–ready genetic-mutation plot—Jeremy Renner’s new agent desperately requires his meds—and its generic, Bond-like chase through multiple cities. Renner and scientist Rachel Weisz are sympathetic enough (although lacking in Matt Damon’s all-American approachability), and the movie flies along briskly. It’s topped by a dangerous-looking motorcycle chase that must count as one of the movies’ finest. Blessedly, the nameless pursuer has absolutely no dialogue.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf