‘Bourne Identity’ takes spy flick to another level
At first blush, “The Bourne Identity” appears to have little in common with director Doug Liman’s previous effort, “Go.” The former is an espionage thriller about an amnesiac assassin, the latter a nocturnal story about young Angelenos clinging to the drug fringe.
However, upon closer examination they are unmistakably the work of the same director – masterpieces of momentum and pacing that power- shift your nervous system through a cinematic slalom of adrenaline- soaked anticipation. Adapted from the 1980 novel by the late Robert Ludlum, “The Bourne Identity” is easily the tautest and most riveting spy flick in recent memory. It also cements Liman’s status as one of commercial filmmaking’s major emerging talents.
Matt Damon plays CIA assassin Jason Bourne, and from the moment the character is fished out of the Mediterranean, unconscious and near death with a pair of bullet holes in his back, Damon looks and carries himself like a guy who breaks people for a living. Stripped of his identity and memory, Bourne is surprised to find himself proficient in multiple languages and sundry forms of hand-to-hand combat.
Liman – whose debut movie, “Swingers,” helped re-write the book on indie filmmaking – cannily leads us through the discovery process, using a colorful palate of camera speeds and flashpoint images to illustrate Bourne’s finely honed combat instincts.
Unbeknownst to Bourne, a mid-level CIA spymaster (Chris Cooper from “American Beauty”) wants him dead, something about a botched assassination of an African strongman (“Oz” inmate Adewale Akinnuoye- Agbaje). Pursued by local police and contract killers, Bourne solicits a ride from a helpful German wanderer, played by Franka Potente (“Run, Lola, Run”), who subsequently becomes a target herself.
The romantic dimension of “The Bourne Identity” is subtle and seductive, punctuated by one of the greatest scenes of foreplay ever filmed: a car chase through the streets and alleys of Paris in Potente’s spunky Austin Mini. To be sure, Damon and Potente as a romantic duo are a vast improvement over Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith, who starred in the 1988 TV version of the book.
Long respected for his dramatic sensitivity, Damon truly comes into his own as an action hero, balancing intelligence and compassion with a newfound physical menace. In other words, he’s a straight-up bad-ass. The sequence where Bourne calmly navigates the American Embassy in Zurich with a platoon of Marines nipping at his heels is an instant classic.
Despite occasional spotty plotting by Liman and screenwriters Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron, “The Bourne Identity” ranks alongside some of the genre’s best, combining the tense precision of “Three Days of the Condor” with gorgeous on-location photography to rival any James Bond movie.
Liman’s eye for Paris – his set pieces include panoramic shots of everything from the Arc de Triomphe to the rarely filmed Belleville district – is sure to delight any Francophile.
In a movie summer packed with blockbusters, “The Bourne Identity” plunges onto the scene with little fanfare, but its irresistible premise and impeccable kinetic execution should make it one of the season’s sure studs.
‘The Bourne Identity’
STARRING: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
PLAYING AT: Tinseltown, Cinemark, Carmike, Chapel Hills
RATED: PG-13 (violence and some profanity)
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
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