I haven't yet reread The Bourne Identity, although I should. In general, most mass market best-selling "thrillers" leave me cold - bad writing, stilted characters, and tired plots (authors Dan Brown, John Grisham and Nelson DeMille come to mind). But Robert Ludlum was a favorite for years, and I always thought The Bourne Identity was one of the best thrillers I'd ever read. And as the movie got some good reviews, and I like the lead actors, I was looking forward to it. I wasn't disappointed. I originally watched this on Sept. 25, 2003.
The Bourne Identity is the 2002 blockbuster based on the best-selling Robert Ludlum novel, first published in 1980. Starring "Goodwill Hunting"'s Matt Damon and "Run Lola Run"'s Franka Potente, it takes the basic premise of the novel but otherwise doesn't follow it at all.
When I first read The Bourne Identity oh so many years ago, I was totally enthralled. For a while there, I would have called it my all time favorite book. My tastes have matured over the years, but it still ranks as one of my favorite pop-lit books. It's a great roller coaster ride, that leaves you guessing and breathless from start to end. It may have just been because it was my first Ludlum, as his books suffer from what I call the "Heinlein Syndrome" - where the first few books you read by the author are really good, but then a certain sameness sets in. Now I'm convinced it doesn't matter which books of either author you read first, you'll love the first few, and the rest are dull. But I think The Bourne Identity still would stand up pretty well. Perhaps I'll give it another try.
However, I had heard that the movie didn't really follow the book all that closely, like the earlier miniseries that starred Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith(!) did, so I wasn't hoping for a miracle.
The movie starts with an unconscious Matt Damon being dragged out of the water in a driving rainstorm by the men on a small fishing boat out of Marseilles. The captain pulls 2 bullets out of his back, as well as a small metal tube that shows in red lights the address and number of a Zurich bank account. When Damon comes to, he cannot remember anything - who he is, where he came from, or what he was doing in the water. After working on the boat until it returns to harbor, he gets dropped off and makes his way to Zurich (not sure how, with no identification at all, but hey....)
He spends the night on a park bench in Zurich, where he gets rousted by a couple of cops. To both his and the cop's surprise, he exhibits some amazing moves and soon both cops are out cold, flat on the ground. He runs off, still completely in the dark as to where those moves came from.
The safe deposit box in the bank proves to be equally mysterious, with passports and money from all kinds of countries. The name on most of the passports is Jason Bourne. We also get shown the inside of the CIA, where it is gradually revealed that Bourne used to work for the CIA in some shadowy fashion. The order gets sent to take Bourne out.
He manages to escape the Zurich police by ducking into the US embassy, but then there is a good chase scene through the embassy as the noose tightens. He escapes the embassy, and offers $20,000 to Marie, played with typical exuberance by Potente, to take him to Paris. She reluctantly accepts and they head off.
Once in Paris, they go to his apartment where there is another attempted hit. Marie freaks out and they head off in the car. There they have a really great chase scene, with Bourne driving Marie's mini car through the streets, alleys and sidewalks of Paris, as the French police try to nab him.
More close calls and assassination attempts follow, while Bourne and Marie try to piece together his identity. He forces Marie to head off without him, as he's become too hot. He eventually corners the CIA chief in the Paris office and his past comes back to Bourne. The CIA man's chief is tired of the mistakes that were made, and cleans everything up, leaving Bourne to slide off into the sunset.
Directed with some vigor by Doug Limon, whose previous credits include Go and Swingers, The Bourne Identity manages to keep up a high level of energy. I think Ms. Potente just might be my favorite actress today, and she does a great job as Marie, but I didn't really feel any "heat" between the principles. There were some obvious logic holes, especially the ending. It isn't clear why they just let him walk, besides that it made dramatic sense.
The other problem I had with the movie was that the fight scenes, of which there are plenty, were filmed in too tight. All you could see were flashing hands and feet, with some dizzying camera work, and boom!, it was over. I think it showed the inexperience of Limon, who is busily at work on the sequel.
One big thing I think the book had that the movie failed to capture was the sense of mystery. In typical fashion for today's movies, everything was explained up front. We barely are introduced to Damon's character when the scene flashes over to the CIA building, where we meet his handler and nearly the whole plot is exposed. So we don't share in Bourne's confusion, which is a real mistake.
The DVD is flawless. I had a small glitch while viewing it, but a vigorous cleaning fixed that up. Good sound, nice picture, plenty of extras. I watched the "Making Of" featurette, and it was mildly interesting. I did watch the "Alternate Ending", but once again it just shows you how often they make the "right" choice. There's a commentary by Damon and Liman, but I haven't listened to it.
So, in the end, this makes a great rental, and a borderline purchase. It has some good actors, an excellent car chase, some intense moments - as long as you don't think about it too much. Give it a try, I don't think you'll be disappointed.