The Bourne Identity

Matt Damon turns in a surprisingly sufficient performance

The Bourne Identity

Directed by Doug Liman

Written by Tony Gilroy based on the novel by Robert Ludlum

Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper


“I want Bourne in a body bag by sundown.”

So the dialogue is a bit silly sometimes, but not so terrible that you squirm
in your seat and check your phone for messages. It’s certainly better than the
other spy thrillers that recently passed through town, notably The Sum of
All Fears
, starring Matt Damon’s best bud, Ben Affleck. During that latest
installment of the Jack Ryan franchise, my battery died from all the messages
I was sending and receiving.

Matt Damon landed the better script. As Robert Ludlum’s most famous character,
Jason Bourne, the pug-nosed Boston frat boy has the opportunity to kick ass,
shoot guns and talk tough. Ben Affleck’s Ryan was a pussy do-gooder who literally
saves the world by, you know, going behind his bosses’ backs and taking things
into his own hands. Damon’s Bourne really just wants to save himself. He doesn’t
try to teach the Russians and Americans to love each other. He just wants to
quit his job.

The film opens with a near-dead Bourne pulled from the Medi-terra-nean by a
crew of Italian fishermen. He has two bullets in his back, and a tiny device
containing the number of a Swiss bank account in his hip. He also has amnesia,
but we soon learn that he’s a CIA black-ops agent gone missing and that he was
somehow involved in the attempted assassination of an exiled African leader.

Bourne’s quest for identity is the movie’s backbone. He pairs up with Marie,
a drifting European mutt, played with awkward eagerness by Franka Potente, the
German actress forever known as Lola. The casting of Potente symbolizes what’s
done right in this movie. Europe is not used a backdrop, but rather as an integral
part of the story. Potente is not a knockout by typical American standards,
and one wonders how the U.S. multiplex audience reacted. Did they accept her
imperfect beauty and hesitant charms, or were they hoping that supporting actress
Julia Stiles would take off her shirt?

The movie has its weak spots, probably a result of the modifications made to
Ludlum’s original work. Instead of the real-life international terrorist Carlos
the Jackal – used to great effect in the book – we get assassins with silly
codenames like The Professor and The Chimp. And screen veteran Chris Cooper
is wasted. As the CIA director in charge of the clandestine project that trained
Jason Bourne, he’s given the weakest dialogue and least opportunity to play
with the role. His turns in Lone Star and American Beauty prove that he’s got
greater range, but there’s not much opportunity to play with the standard Morally
Ambiguous Government Official character.

The Bourne Identity isn’t bad. It doesn’t rate with genre classics like
Three Days of the Condor or the The Hunt for Red October, but
for a big-budget, big-name American spy thriller, it’s worth your 149 Kč.

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