The Bourne Identity
2002, PG-13, 118 min. Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Matt Damon, Franke Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Adele Akinnouye-Agbaje, Julia Stiles.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 14, 2002
The Bourne Identity isn't a remake of one of those taut Seventies-era thrillers like The Marathon Man or The Parallax View, but it feels like one; it opens with a mysterious corpse bobbing in the Mediterranean, and then jounces all over a European landscape composed primarily of muted colors and cramped alleyways. The protagonist is -- maybe -- Jason Bourne, an amnesiac with hidden and altogether useful skills such as a mastery of hand-to-hand combat, gun-smarts, and a habit of wiping down his room to eliminate any trace of his presence. He's a cipher and remains so for much of the film. As played by Matt Damon, he looks a bit raw to know how to pull off all these spy tricks, but Damon is an actor who can get by on charm alone when necessary, and his winning, harried half-smiles fit the enigmatic character to a T. Based on the Robert Ludlum novel and directed with skittery aplomb by Doug Liman (Go), this is one film that deserves to knock that other Cold War-relic out of the No. 1 box office position -- The Sum of All Fears, coincidentally starring Damon's pal Ben Affleck -- if only by virtue of style alone. Liman's film is essentially one long chase sequence, and it's constructed almost entirely from suspense tropes we've seen before, but Liman infuses it with such chilly European flair that it's impossible not to enjoy the ride. As Bourne, a secret agent of some sort, Damon (who arrives with no less than two bullet holes in his back and a laser-pointer containing a numbered Swiss bank account notation embedded in his flesh) gets to fuse both the bewildered smart-guy character of Good Will Hunting with James Bond-ian high adventure, and the result is a cheerfully ridiculous superman with the looks and bearing of, well, Will Hunting. Searching for clues about his past, he's constantly challenged by mysterious killers, U.S. Marines, foreign agents, and -- from afar -- Chris Cooper, playing the equally enigmatic American Conklin, who vacillates from panicking about Bourne's whereabouts to wanting his scruffy blond head on a pike. And what's a chase film without a sexy companion to go along for the bumpy ride? Run Lola Run's Franke Potente -- an actress whose lush lips and canny, Teutonic smile practically define the term Eurotica -- is Marie, who gives Bourne a ride to Paris after he offers her $10,000 he's just liberated from the mysterious Mr. Bourne's safety deposit box. As the pair drive her poor, red Mini through the torturous streets of several European cities, down flights of stairs, and into the ground, they bond, as couples are wont to do when being pursued by nameless gun-toting baddies, and have a fine old time of it. Their unavoidable coupling is as quick as Bourne's wits, and by the time Clive Owen's (Croupier) assassin hunts them down, they're all but engaged. Ah, the life of a secret agent; what's not to like? Liman's director of photography Oliver Wood (Face/Off) makes everything look vaguely menacing, from Bourne's empty Paris flat to the French countryside; it may not be winter but the whole film feels as though it were shot just this side of Iceland, with a frosty blue hue overlaying much of the action and a spare, chilly bite to the action sequences. There's something particularly adult, too, about The Bourne Identity. Like its protagonist, it never hands you explanations on a silver platter, and it makes you think a bit, something far too few thrillers do these days.