The Bourne Identity
review by Gregory Avery, 14 June 2002

The Bourne Identity is an attempt to do a big, old-fashioned international espionage/paranoia thriller -- in this instance, one of Robert Ludlum's doorstop-sized pulp novels from twenty years back -- with modern-day electronics and M.T.V.-style jiggedyness, and it only barely rises above the lukewarm.

Matt Damon plays a guy who is fished out of the water, by Italian fishermen, with two gunshots in his back and no memory. Soon, though, he discovers -- with the aid of a Swiss safe deposit box, the number of which is the only information he has on him -- that he knows things like how to scope out locations and reduce attackers to bone meal, the latter coming in very handy when global resources are marshalled to try and eliminate him.

Like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon seems to be incrementally becoming less and less interesting as an actor the further out he gets from Good Will Hunting. Square-cut and handsome, he has all his defenses up and in place, and he gives performances that are buffed and polished until all the distinctive edges are rubbed clean away. While taking into consideration that, here, he is playing both an amnesiac and a highly-disciplined field intelligence operative, Damon nonetheless sounds the same after his character has a crisis of conscience in one scene as he did before, and I don't think it's supposed to be ironic.

The lead actor may have become profoundly mediocre, but, fortunately, Franka Potente has been cast opposite him, in the girl-on-the-run-with-the-hero position, and the actress who appeared, splendidly, in director Tom Tykwer's three recent films is looking like she can bring a glittering appeal and incisiveness to any role she cares to take on. Her surprise and shock upon seeing several people she'd just seen alive turned stone-cold dead provides the film with its one genuinely affecting moment. But even Potente can only do so much playing opposite a fencepost. She's a little better off than some of the other cast members: Chris Cooper spends a lot of time stalking back and forth and barking out instructions to subordinates, and some other very talented actors are stuck in some very, very tiny roles -- Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, and especially Clive Owen, whose role turns out to be so ludicrously marginalized that you wonder why they bothered to go to all the trouble to drag him into this thing at all.

Doug Liman, who did a very good picture a few years back (Go), directed, showing a facility for speed as well as an ability to effectively lark about some very attractive European locations, but something went wrong with the picture along the way -- the results are such that you feel like you're only half-aware of what's going on most of the time, and you still feel that way even after the explanations have all rolled in. A film based on a book (or anything else for that matter) should be able to stand on its own, without the audience having to have familiarized itself with the source material beforehand. Here, you have a choice: you can either read the novel before seeing the picture, or you can track down the miniseries that was earlier made of it, with the stalwart Richard Chamberlain in the lead. Approach any or all at your own risk.

Directed by:
Doug Liman

Starring:
Matt Damon
Franka Potente
Brian Cox
Tim Dutton
Chris Cooper.

Written by:
Tony Gilroy
William Blake Herron

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
inappropriate for
children under 13.

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