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BOURNE IDENTITY, THE (director: Doug Liman; screenwriters: Tony Gilroy/William Blake Herron/novel by Robert Ludlum; cinematographer: Oliver Wood; editor: Saar Klein; music: John Powell; cast: Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Franka Potente (Marie Kreutz), Clive Owen (The Professor), Chris Cooper (Ted Conklin), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Nykwana Wombosi), Julia Stiles (Nicolette), Brian Cox (Ward Abbott), Anthony Green (Security Chief Richard Hampton); Runtime: 117; Universal Pictures; 2002)
“I could sympathize with Damon’s character suffering from memory loss, as I too couldn’t recall much about this forgettable film soon after seeing it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Considering that this $60 million film adaptation of the late Robert Ludlum’s novel is directed by the hipster of light comedy, director Doug Liman (Swingers/Go), who had his film’s opening delayed due to filming problems such as re-writes, the only surprising thing about this thriller is that it’s not as bad as it could have been. The plotline is clichéd with the usual unnerving car chases, action-macho martial arts exploits, a predictable romance, and on-the-run chills for a road movie, but the thriller holds up rather well as far as not being too absurd (now I didn’t say it wasn’t absurd) and holding one’s interest through its relentlessly fast pace, ear for comedy, gorgeous cinematography and the good chemistry between the stars Matt Damon and Franka Potente. If that doesn’t sound like an overwhelming endorsement for the film, that is because the film is a candy treat and meant for escapist theater-goers and goes no further in value than that. Read the 500+ page book if you want a better take on the characters and a more involving and credible story, because the movie took too many liberties from the deeper novel and cut too much out of it for the story to make too much sense.

In this spy thriller Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, he’s a secret specially trained CIA operative who has been found by a French fishing boat in a comatose state floating in the Mediterranean Sea about 60 miles off the coast of Marseille. Damon has two bullet holes in him, an implanted chip with a Zurich bank number in his hip, and he’s an amnesia victim who can’t remember anything else including his identity. Two weeks later in Zurich Damon gets to his security box in his numbered account and finds a gun, six passports with different names and countries, and a stack of money. Damon decides to track down who he is from the first American passport under the name of Jason Bourne, which comes with a Paris address. In his move to get to Paris, Bourne ducks into the American Embassy in Zurich when he instinctively knows he’s being followed. There Bourne has to make a daring escape when he’s targeted as a wanted man by security, as an informant in the bank tipped off the CIA. To the rescue comes an attractive German wanderer who is broke but has a car, Marie Kreutz (Potente). For $10,000 now and $10,000 more when they reach Paris, she agrees to drive him there without realizing the risk. Potente has the same frantic look she had in “Run Lola, Run,” as she plays a part she is now more than familiar with.

Meanwhile they are under surveillance by the CIA operatives Bourne worked for, who are working their computers back at Langley and who now want to eliminate him because of a failed assassination attempt, on a yacht in the Mediterranean, on a troublesome former African leader, Wombosi (Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Bourne is now in exile in Paris and threatens to expose the CIA as his attempted assassins.

The story comes clearer by the minute as we begin to learn who Bourne is, as the CIA fails to kill him in his Paris pad. But Maria now also becomes part of their manhunt, and she decides to go on-the-run with Bourne rather than surrender to the French police because she’s confused and in love with him. The film makes the CIA operatives into conventional film villains, as Bourne’s clandestine CIA supervisor is the ruthless Conklin (Cooper) who thought up this nefarious operation and assigned Bourne to be the lone assassin of the stereotyped irksome African leader. When Conklin’s amoral and dastardly but politically perceptive boss, Abbott (Brian Cox), learns how the operation got botched, his only comment is that it better be cleared up right away or else.

The way it is to be taken care of, is that Conklin uses his operatives in Paris to try and kill Bourne. That results in a maddening chase through Paris and the European countryside (France and snowy Switzerland-almost all these scenes are filmed in Prague), as the film ends on a remote Greek island. The supporting cast is wasted here, appearing only as cardboard props for the action scenes. Julia Stiles and Clive Owen have marginal roles as part of the CIA villainy.

I could sympathize with Damon’s character suffering from memory loss, as I too couldn’t recall much about this forgettable film soon after seeing it. For me, the scene of Damon getting into his secret Swiss numbered bank account was the most fun to watch, as I was curious to see in such detail that procedure. Lyman also does a nifty job of utilizing great moments of silence to show Damon getting through nail-biting scenes of escaping from his flat, the bank, and a country house. The surprise is that I found this film nicely executed and compared to some of the more recent mindless thrillers (ex. Sum of all Fears) unleashed on the public, this one is much more palatable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”