Bourne Identity, The

The Bourne Identity (12)

INTELLIGENT Hollywood thrillers are rare beasts these days but, in the past few weeks, two have come along in quick succession: The Sum of All Fears and, now, The Bourne Identity.

The latter, taken from the novel by Robert Ludlum, could easily slip into the Bond series in that it would totally and unequivocally re-invent the franchise, moving it away from the OTT adventures of recent vintage.

Told at a nervy, frenetic pace by Doug (Swingers) Liman, The Bourne Identity opens as a young man with two bullets in his back is rescued from the sea, fixed up and dropped off in Switzerland, all the while suffering amnesia and wondering who he is.

His memory loss means he can only recall the last two weeks, but a visit to a Swiss bank’s vault reveals that he is Jason Bourne (Matt Damon, the unlikeliest of action heroes), an American with a fortune in his safety deposit box, a gun and six passports under different names.

Pretty soon Bourne is demolishing cops, causing havoc at the American Embassy and fleeing the scene with a young woman (Franka Potente from Run Lola Run) in tow. He’s a walking enigma with no idea what he is doing or where he is going. Meanwhile, back in the US, the CIA wants him dead. The question raging through Bourne’s mind is ‘why?’

Boasting a cerebral script, bone-crunching fight sequences and the best car chase since the late John Frankenheimer’s Ronin, The Bourne Identity shows what Hollywood studios can do when they are unencumbered by formulaic genre stereotypes, tired stars and lazy, effects-reliant scripts.

Damon, buffed-up and well honed, absolutely looks the part as the CIA spook gone bad. It doesn’t matter that the central core of the story – something about a shady group of underground agents who perform assassinations and other dubious duties in a half world of drugs and voluntary amnesia – is introduced and glossed over quickly.

Instead Liman rattles through a cat-and-mouse thriller that offers Damon his best role since Good Will Hunting and gives roles to actors of the calibre of Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and Clive Owen, even though all three have relatively little to do.

Cox’s crumpled features are always a welcome sight in an American movie, while Owen, enjoying a high after Croupier and Gosford Park, creeps through the proceedings with the laconic grace of a 21st century Clint Eastwood. Watch for him in Martin Campbell’s Beyond Borders and in I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, which reunites him with Croupier director Mike (Get Carter) Hodges.

Potente also enjoys a tangible chemistry with Damon, and is riding high after the amazing success of Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run.

Despite the presence of such capable co-stars it is Damon who enjoys the focus of our attention, and he really delivers. His martial arts sequences are some of the best yet seen in a mainstream American movie, rivalling those of Steven Seagal who, though he can’t act, can genuinely handle himself with authenticity on film. Who’d have thought Damon would give him a run for his money?

One stunt, a high fall down a narrow stairwell, is gob-smackingly executed, though it does belong in the superspy world of James Bond, while the US Embassy sequence shows just how far Damon has come from geeky college kid-type to hard-ass hitman. Only when he smiles, exposing a mouth seemingly containing too many teeth, does the façade temporarily fall away. The eye-popping gunplay, however, resembles the relentless action of another recent hit, Chris MacQuarrie’s The Way of the Gun.

See this one and savour it.

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