Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: "The Bourne Identity" is Classic Secret Agent

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 112 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Bourne Identity (2002)
Running time: 119 minutes (1 hour, 59 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for violence and some language
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
WRITERS: Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron (from the novel by Robert Ludlum)
PRODUCERS: Doug Liman, Patrick Crowley, and Richard N. Gladstein
EDITOR: Saar Klein


Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Julia Stiles

There really aren’t any bad Matt Damon movies, just bad movies in which Matt Damon is an actor or a star. He has boyishly good looks, but there’s also something in his character that suggests a solid stand up guy upon which one can rely – probably the two big things needed to make a great male star of the screen. Doug Liman is a rising star as a director. I haven’t seen his film Swingers, but I did see his rave scene version of Pulp Fiction, Go, which is an utterly fantastic fun ride of good music and loopy violence. If you put Damon and Liman together and give them a Robert Ludlum novel to make into a film, you might get the fantastic thriller, The Bourne Identity.

A French fishing vessel finds a man (Matt Damon) floating in the middle of the stormy Mediterranean Sea, whom the crew promptly rescues. He has two bullets in his back, and when he awakes, he doesn’t remember his name. Documents reveal his identity as Jason Bourne, but Jason doesn’t remember any special significance attached to his alleged name. As he follows the few clues he has in hopes of recovering from his amnesia, he must escape a web of international intrigue and a cadre of assassins bent of killing him.

I think a lot of people were surprised that this film became a fairly big hit, and many more were surprised that it was actually so good. The key players in this film are, of course, Damon and Liman. Damon’s Bourne is for all practical purposes, almost the only important character in the film. The rest of the characters are decent, but there is nothing to them beyond their role in a paper-thin shadowy conspiracy. The presence of veteran characters like Chris Cooper and Brian Cox are delightful, but I assume that their characters would have been richer characters if Ludlum’s novel from which this is film is adapted had been made into a television mini-series. A slight supporting cast could have been a liability, but Liman has this deft touch of making his film move briskly and with such vibrancy and life. The viewer hardly has time to focus his attention on story holes. Like a good book, you can’t walk away from The Bourne Identity. You don’t want to walk away, and there are many times when the only reason I finish a boring movie is because I think that I might as well finish what I started.

In Damon, Liman has star with screen presence, and he takes full advantage of it. Although we know only a little more about Bourne that the character himself, as the camera follows Damon, the actor makes us interested in Bourne. With so many run-of-the-mill action flicks, it’s good to see the occasional action/thriller (a genre primarily aimed at older audiences) like Ronin or The Negotiator that engages the thinking and the feeling. The Bourne Identity is a bravura performance by a director and his star that’s worth seeing. It’s a moment in film history when two people come together with utter determination to take what is meant to be slight entertainment and make it into something that goes to the top of the heap. It’ll leave you wanting more.

8 of 10


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