Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Amnesiac Bond, Er, Bourne: The Bourne Identity

The Good: Acting, Character
The Bad: Plot twists were fairly obvious, Resolution (Alternate? ending)
The Basics: While entertaining and a decent example of how Matt Damon truly can act, this spy thriller fizzles with twists that are evident long before they are revealed.

If we've learned anything from the movies, it would have to be that when you lose your memory and find yourself filled with bullets, remove a laser pointer from your body to find where your safe deposit box is. It's a good thing Jason Bourne has seen the same movies to know to do these things as well. I'm fascinated by how movies with people suffering from amnesia always seem to have convenient moments for the return of their memories. Far more refreshing a film would be one where our hero (or heroine) never figures out why everyone is after them.

The Bourne Identity finds Jason Bourne not knowing even his name. He wakes up on a fishing boat, stitched together by a sailor, not knowing anything, but clearly possessing many skills. He speaks multiple languages and knows things like that, but his identity has been erased. At the bank, he acquires personal effects which clue him in on who he is. But without the full story, he does not understand why assassins are after him and he flees with the help of a woman (Marie).

So, basically, it's a spy thriller wherein the spy does not know he is a spy and he doesn't know why he is at the center of intrigue. It's not terribly hard to figure out given that early in the movie the CIA begins hunting him. Bourne is an assassin who failed to kill his mark and The Bourne Identity strives to put Jason on the track of what he was supposed to do and why he failed.

It's basically a shoot 'em up, drive fast all over type movie that has a lot of movement, but not a ton of substance. Before seeing the movie, I heard Roger Ebert's review and he liked the fact that Bourne used a map in the film. I liked that too, but it was a brief shot and very much underused. The idea that Bourne would not know a lot of things, like the specific layout of certain buildings, is an excellent idea that was not expanded upon. The story tried too hard to get him back to being an invulnerable hero-type too quickly to be believable.

Furthermore, there are supposed to be twists. Julia Styles plays a part and she is supposed to provide some of the unexpected turns in the story, but people who see lots of movies will see them coming from her. The reversals in The Bourne Identity are fairly predictable, though to be fair it's hard to do a good spy thriller these days.

What the movie does have in substance works well. Jason Bourne is interesting at the very least and Marie, a woman willing to drive a stranger for $20,000 because she needs the money, seems very real. In fact, Marie ties the movie to the viewer quite well. Despite the ridiculously long and complicated car chase, Marie makes it easy for the viewer to believe that everything we see could actually happen.

At the end of the day, it is the acting that saves The Bourne Identity. Chris Cooper has a wonderful supporting role that almost redeems his place in the awful Adaptation. (Though to be fair, he was the high point of that movie) Franka Potente plays Marie and she does it expertly. She is Hollywood beautiful, but makes the viewer believe she is desperate for money and simple and not as beautiful as her physique suggests. In short, she is in the movie for a lot more than eye candy. She has substance that makes us believe in Marie and in the extreme premises of the movie.

Matt Damon here saves much of the day with a performance that pushes his acting chops. Neither the somber protagonist from Good Will Hunting nor the smug angel from Dogma (reviewed here!) creeps into his performance. In fact, having seen interviews with Damon promoting such things as Dogma and Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, his portrayal of Jason Bourne seems devoid of the actor's personality. In short, Damon successfully immerses himself in the character here and it pays off big time for him. Damon makes us believe in Bourne by the way he speaks, the way he moves and all of his other mannerisms.

So, while it is not the best spy thriller ever, it is entertaining. It's decent for a rainy day, though if you have the DVD and are intrigued by such things as the "alternate ending" advertised, you are likely to be disappointed, as the alternate ending is a minor difference from the one in the film. If you're looking to add something to your permanent collection in this genre, give Alias a chance; it has more going for it.

For other works with Brian Cox, be sure to check out my review of:
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
X-2: X-Men United


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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