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"The Bourne Identity"

Directed by Doug Liman ("Swingers").
Written by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron.  Based on the novel by Robert Ludlum.
Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente and Chris Cooper. 
Release Year:  2002
Review Date:  6/18/02


When I first saw the trailer for “The Bourne Identity”, I remember what I did when I saw Matt Damon (ahem, “Rounders”) throw a punch at a guard that literally flipped the guy into the air: 

I burst out into laughter.

Matt Damon, action hero?  No friggin’ way.  Then, I saw the movie.

Based on the Robert Ludlum novel, Damon plays an amnesiac assassin that washes up on a boat off the coast of Marseilles with two bullets in his back, a Swiss bank account and no memory.  After learning how to wharf with six French guys, he gets dropped off on shore and makes his way to the bank, where he finds out his name is Jason least in America, since he has passports to six other nations with different names.  After cops pick up his trail upon leaving the bank, an international chase ensues, with a CIA honcho (Chris Cooper), a safe house operative (Julia Stiles), three hitmen and hundreds of Parisian police officers all on his tail.  The only things that Bourne can trust are a 26-year-old potty mouth (Franka Potente, “Run Lola Run”) and his slowly-recovering memory.

As some of you remember, I reviewed the four-hour ABC miniseries from 1988 of the same name earlier this year and I really liked that version.  The biggest difference here is definitely Damon, because while I love Richard Chamberlain—damned near the best TV movie actor of all time—it got hard sometimes to believe he could whoop somebody’s ass.  Director Doug Liman (“Go”) does a good job of speeding up real time to make us believe that Damon really does “have the skills of a dangerous man” (per the trailer) by slightly speeding up the film whenever he goes into action mode.  This is definitely more action film than espionage thriller, and it works mostly because of the great staging of events throughout the film:  a shootout here, a better-than-average car chase there, a fistfight or a guy getting tossed out of a window.  Although I thought that Liman let his lead figure out his name too quickly, I enjoyed following the hero as he figured out his identity over the course of a slightly-too-long two hours.

Oh, and those locations!  World travelers will enjoy watching “The Bourne Identity” just for the lush scenery, which clearly is shot on location in Paris and a few other European locations.  The other extras in this film are quite good, like a well-acted supporting cast featuring Cooper, Clive Owen, and Brian Cox.  Owen is great mostly because he gets to gratuitously drive a BMW in one scene in this film; as some folks remember, Owen did a five-part internet film series last year for the car maker as The Driver.  The use of silence by Liman in the film is very, very good; he lets Damon and Potente do much of the work with their awkward relationship and his investigation into who he really is.

The film possesses only minor problems; a couple of logistical things came up for me like “Hmm, that guy cut off Bourne’s wet suit, and there are two bullets in his back...but, there are no bullet holes in the suit!”  Stiles looks uncomfortable and out of place here; some of that is her character, but for someone that now has a couple of pretty impressive credits on her résumé, she shouldn’t even entertain parts like this.  When Liman does use music, like during that pivotal car chase sequence, it doesn’t quite match up to how intense the action is.

But, this is a great entry into the mid-summer action arena.  And, in what is quickly become the theme for 2002, films are finally giving us good endings again and “The Bourne Identity” is no exception.  Mmm, mmm, good.

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09