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The Bourne Identity - Click to view! THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)
Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, and Julia Stiles.
Directed by Doug Liman.
MPAA rating: PG-13

Matt Damon and Julia Stiles, both of whom appear in The Bourne Identity, have always grated on my nerves. Both have a certain air of confidence in their own abilities as actors which, in my lowly view, borders on arrogance and is misguided. So, from the get-go, I was biased against TBI, and expected to write a particularly nasty 500 words or so picking apart every mundane detail. It would be a piece short on substance, long in length, and heavy on criticisms that only explored one dimension of the movie: the acting.

Unfortunately, TBI went out and spoiled my fun by being less than horrible. Not much better than that, mind you, but not as bad as I thought it would be.

Damon stretches himself into the less than prestigious company of Steven Seagal and Bruce Willis by taking on his first action role. Found floating in the ocean, and presumed dead by a crew of fishermen, he is revived, finds himself suffering from amnesia, and spends all but the last few minutes of the movie trying to regain old memories. He conveniently remembers things that keep him alive (he has a habit of being shot at and engaged by policemen), but only vague clues to his identity. He ends up in Paris, buys himself an expensive car ride from Marie Kreutz (German actress Franka Potente) and makes his way around Europe, trying to solve the mystery of his identity while being chased at every turn by people who want him dead. The audience, unfortunately, is kept as much in the dark as Damon's character (Jason Bourne), and may be left scratching their heads even when all is apparently solved.

The greatest merits of this film are certainly the action scenes. Damon, though sporting a post-college "gee-whiz-ma'am" demeanour, seems to have trained prior to shooting, and he (or his stunt double) is very capable in the fight sequences and during most of the other physical play that is peppered throughout. Those fight sequences, though not as numerous as would be preferred, are ably choreographed in highly stylized kung-fu style and are largely believable. The main car chase scene, too, is a joy, but a bit ludicrous (Bourne manages to elude a small army of police officers in an early model Austin Mini).

And, to be honest, the acting isn't bad. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, Stiles says no more than a few sentences, and none of the main characters spoke enough to turn me off. Queen's to you, Damon.

But the plot is where the film falls apart. Though engaging for the first hour or so, the screenwriters stretch the ambiguous identity to its limits and beyond, succeeding in keeping the audience guessing, but also in breeding apathy. By the 75 minute mark, it becomes inconsequential who Bourne really is. I reached for the "eject" button more than once. A little foreshadowing would have gone a long way to keeping things interesting.

Morally, TBI is largely what you'd expect from a Hollywood action flick. As stated, there are fight scenes and a bit of gunplay. None of the violence is gratuitous, but it should be enough to discourage younger viewers. The main characters also end up sleeping together (no nudity, however), and have a habit of spitting out profanities.

The DVD also comes with standard fare: deleted scenes, an alternate ending, a documentary about the film, and cast bios. A Moby video is thrown in as well.

All told, TBI is a film that I'm glad I didn't spend $11 to see in theatres, but was reasonably entertaining as a Saturday evening rental.
- Ben Forrest
March 2003
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