The Bourne Identity (2002) Movie Review

Warning: Having read the original Robert Ludlum book and all of its sequels numerous times, and because Mr. Ludlum’s books inspired this reviewer to try his hand at writing, the reviewer freely admits to being bias against the movie and its idiot director and “writers”. If you were to ask me what was the point of Doug Liman’s movie adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s spy thriller “The Bourne Identity”, I couldn’t tell you. As it stands, Liman’s version of Ludlum’s international espionage thriller, about an American assassin in Paris who loses his memory while doing a job for the CIA, is that piece of meat that hangs between your teeth after a hearty meal. It’s unnecessary and you can’t wait to pick it out and flick it away, never to be thought off again.

Matt Damon steps into the role of Jason Bourne, the CIA assassin in question, who is found floating in European waters with two gunshot wounds. Bourne has lost his memory as a result of his injuries, and the only possible link to his past life is a much-too-large doohickey implanted in his thigh that gives him the name of a bank and a bank account number. After an incident in a park with two French cops, Bourne discovers that he has superior fighting prowess, although he has no idea where they came from. After his trip to the bank, Bourne finds money, a gun, and fake passports in different names. Who is Jason Bourne? And why can he speak multiple languages, use a gun with expertise, and beat down two French cops without breaking a sweat?

The below analysis of the film may contain some spoilers, so those of you planning to see the film and would like to be surprise should not read on. You have been warned.

The biggest disappointment about “Identity” is just how unnecessarily stupid and shallow it is. Director Doug Liman (“Go”) and screenwriters Gilroy and Herron have elected to use the original premise of Ludlum’s book, but throw everything else out. Liman has even kept the lead female’s name, Marie, although her status as a visiting doctor who becomes Bourne’s hostage is removed. Instead, Marie is a lifeless German who becomes a willing accomplice that eventually develops cold feet after the bodies start falling. In the book, and in the (far superior) 1988 Richard Chamberlain miniseries, Marie was a frightened hostage, trying to escape from Bourne at every turn, until Bourne saves her live at the risk of his own, prompting Marie’s change of heart. There is none of that contested and intense relationship in this movie.

I am so astounded by the sheer balls shown by filmmaker Liman. The man has the gall to believe he is a better writer/storyteller than a man of Ludlum’s credentials. He believes Ludlum’s creation of Bourne as an American assassin sent to Europe to antagonize, lure out, and then kill a very dangerous and elusive international terrorist known as Carlos is bunk. Instead, Liman believes his idea about an assassin working for the Evil American Government who develops a conscience is somehow better! (Notice the capitalization.)

Despite all of their talent, Matt Damon and Franka Potente (“Run Lola Run”) can’t muster enough conviction to persuade me that they’re in anything other than a long chase film. The film is strung together with scenes of Bourne and Potente’s tourist fleeing French cops who couldn’t catch a fly. In-between Bourne fleeing the French, Liman cuts to Bourne’s ex-boss, CIA Evil Mastermind Conklin (Chris Cooper) as he pulls out all the stops to kill one of his own. (You see, Conklin, like all Evil CIA Masterminds, could care less about his prot’g’ or collateral damage. They’re so Evil that they’ll even kill an old French lady! Damn those Evil CIA Masterminds!)

There is a throwaway subplot about Bourne being sent by Conklin to kill Wombosi, a loudmouth exiled African leader who was to going spill the Evil Secrets of the Evil CIA. Most interesting of all, I spent much of the film wondering why Julia Stiles decided to join the cast as a CIA operator in Paris. Surely Stiles, a rising star, has other, better movies to do besides playing third banana in a meaningless role best reserved for unknowns looking for a break. This seems like such a backward step for her.

Despite its status as an unnecessary pregnancy most in need of an abortion, “Identity” does have some good points. The action, although brief and spaced out, are quite well done and exciting. Matt Damon, while looking much too young for the role, did manage to convince me that he could kill with a sponge if he so chooses.

And while Franka Potente is mostly there to run alongside Damon’s Bourne as he’s pursued by dumb French cops, Clive Owen (from the BMW movie ads) shines in a minor role as a CIA killer named The Professor. Owen’s cold-blooded hitman is the highlight of the film, and that should tell you something about this incarnation of “The Bourne Identity.” Actually, when a Richard Chamberlain miniseries is better than your movie, you’ve got real problem.

Doug Liman (director) / Robert Ludlum (novel), Tony Gilroy, W. Blake Herron (screenplay)
CAST: Matt Damon …. Jason Bourne
Franka Potente …. Marie Kreutz
Chris Cooper …. Conklin
Clive Owen …. The Professor
Brian Cox …. Ward Abbott

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