Looks like I should have saved last weeks intro about how popular stories about the CIA have become for this week. The Bourne Identity brings us yet another story from the spy shop, though it is much more compelling than it's aimless competitor, Bad Company.
Matt Damon is Jason Bourne, or is he? Appropriately, it's the question of identity that fills most of the two hours of this film, as deep cover assassins and their handlers race to eliminate Bourne before he can recover from his amnesiatic fugue and bring them all down. In the first scenes of the movie, Damon is drawn from the Mediterranean Sea by a fishing vessel and nursed back to health by its crewmen. The only problem is, he doesn't have any idea as to who or where he is, nor where he should be going. His only clue is a cryptic Swiss Bank account number and an uncanny ability to take care of himself, be it by dispatching nosy Swiss police, or escaping from the U.S. Embassy. He meets a German girl named Marie and convinces her to take him to Paris. As the pieces of his old life fall into place, Bourne becomes aware of the danger he and Marie are in, and realizes that he will have to end the chase, one way or another.
Matt Damon is consistently a good actor, and this film is no exception. Though this performance doesn't rate with his best work, The Talented Mr. Ripley or Good Will Hunting, it is solid and engaging, and never slides into caricature, a pitfall that these action thrillers are rife with. He easily slips into the role of man who doesn't really know who he is, which is becoming a theme with him. Probably the most telling scene of the movie has Damon recovering a safe deposit box with a passport and an address card that list him as Jason Bourne, an American living in Paris. The relief he feels is almost audible until he finds six other passports with different names and identities. The question becomes: does he really have amnesia, or did he ever have a real personality in the first place? Also effective is relative newcomer Franka Potente as Marie. Americans last saw her in the German hit, Run, Lola Run, which, admittedly, gave her more to do than does The Bourne Identity. She plays her part well, though it mostly involves reacting rather than acting, the most common pitfall for women in these types of movies.
I was pleased with the fact that, though there is plenty of violence in this film, none of it seems to be gratuitous, a problem with a somewhat similar movie, The Jackal, a few years back. Instead, the plot is driven by a steady search for clues that will lead Bourne to his true identity. Smartly written, the screenplay is an adaptation from famed spy novelist, Robert Ludlum. Often, spy thrillers can get bogged down in the intrigue, however, and to combat that, producers cannily brought director Doug Liman on board. With cult fave Swingers, and the creatively frenetic Go under his belt, Liman brings a hipness and a sense of energy that these movies often lack. From the so-typical-it's-fresh-again car chase down the wrong way of a one way street, to Bourne's consistent ability to outwit his pursuers, Liman keeps it all going at a pretty steady clip.
When it's all said and done, Bourne is good, but not the best thing you'll see all summer. Try as it might, even the best of these films lag a little, and it does stall some in the middle. Also, for all it's vast resources, the CIA in this movie seems a remarkably small operation. Nearly unnoticed in the movie is semi-accomplished actress Julia Stiles as the lone agent monitoring Paris out of a dingy hotel room. And they wonder why Bourne keeps getting away. All in all, though, I enjoyed this movie. It takes a good solid stab at the genre, and comes away a success. I guess it's true what they say: good spy movies are Bourne not made. (Ok, I know, that was a really bad pun. Sorry.) Grade: B+
The Bourne Identity is rated PG-13 for language and violence.
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