Directed By Doug Liman
By: Eric Greenwood
It's been a very slow summer for movies so far. After the early peak of the Spider-Man and Star Wars double whammy in May, the studios have been shoveling out a mound of manure that is de rigeur for this time of year. So, The Bourne Identity almost slipped by me unnoticed amidst the showy onslaught of big budget schlock. From the previews it seems like a dozen other anonymous spy thrillers, but director Doug Liman puts his distinctive touch on his interpretation of Robert Ludlum's Cold War page-turner.
Liman is quickly becoming a versatile director, having tackled three different genres in three consecutive films. He's done the fast-paced comedic buddy flick (Swingers), the frenetic post-Pulp Fiction teen fare (Go), and now his first crack at a big budget thriller is easily his most streamlined and successful yet. The Bourne Identity is a taut, intensely focused action film. While serving up healthy doses of spy novel cliches, Liman manages to cut any trace of fat so as to make every scene essential to the plot.
Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, the amnesiac assassin trying to figure out his identity. Damon brings just the right amount of heroic stoicism and controlled panache to the role without stooping to campy Bond-isms. He may even play it too cool, as it's hard to warm up to his character, but the detached aloofness adds to the film's cut 'n dry immediacy. And Franka Potente's eurotrash hippie character adroitly balances Bourne's "just the facts, ma'am" directness. She's the emotional foil to Bourne's unflappable personality.
The story itself isn't necessarily as dated as most critics will have you believe. Just because it was written twenty-two years ago doesn't mean it is implausible today. The idea of the CIA hiring assassins to take out political adversaries is certainly reasonable. Granted, it's currently illegal under international law to assassinate enemy leaders without declaring war on them first, but the idea is actually very timely, especially considering our efforts to ferret out Osama Bin Laden and dethrone Saddam Hussein.
Liman's directing is less stylized than his previous efforts, particularly in Go, where the camera played a pivotal, if somewhat obtrusive, role. Here Liman is more hands off, allowing the actors to set the tone. Apart from his quick cuts and lingering close-ups, Liman's hand is practically invisible. The film plays like an homage to classic spy thrillers but with a modern edge. The action supplants tricky edits, the best example of which is a mesmerizing car chase through the narrow streets of Paris.
The Bourne Identity is not a substantive film, but it doesn't purport to be one either. It fulfills every promise a spy film makes from nervous energy to edge of your seat suspense to cold-blooded murder. Matt Damon finally steps out of the "awe shucks, I just won an Oscar" act and successfully carries a film on his own. And Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, The Princess And The Warrior) is dazzling to watch in her first commercial role. She should make the transition from indie darling to mainstream actress without much effort and her sexy German accent and pouty lips certainly won't hurt.
For pure escapist entertainment that doesn't patronize or dumb itself down, The Bourne Identity is hard to beat. It's easily my favorite film of the summer.