Throughout his career, Matt Damon has been a lawyer, a genius, a soldier, a gambler, an angel, a serial killer, a cartoon character, a cowboy, a golfer and a thief. What's left? Why, an action hero of course.
Damon stars as super secret spy Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, a thriller about a man who is found floating in the ocean, can't remember his name or how he got there, but has many talents and skills which suggests that he is dangerous. His suspicions are confirmed when he finds himself being pursued by assassins, and so he must figure out who he is and who is chasing after him. The movie is based on the much more complicated book of the same title by Robert Ludlum.
The Bourne Identity is a decent thriller, with an adequate plot and some good but not great action scenes. The story is compelling - he can't remember why people are trying to kill him - but the execution of the story isn't as terrific. We're given a little too much insight into Bourne's agency (who is trying to kill him) a little too early. Director Doug Liman should have pulled the audience into the mystery the same way Bourne himself is; it would have been a lot better had we not found out what was going on until Bourne did.
More importantly, it felt as though there was something missing from the movie. The friend that I went with confirmed my suspicions; the movie is not very true to the book, and a lot of the politics behind the mystery are not here. Obviously, I have not read the book and I don't know how consistent it is with the novel, but what I do know is that the assassination attempt that results in Bourne's amnesia is hardly tied in with the plot. Basically, Bourne is on the run from his own agency because they are trying to cover things up; that is all. I was expecting a much more intricate plot, with some deeper workings going on, not to mention some twists. In that department, I was a little disappointed.
As an action movie, The Bourne Identity is okay. Matt Damon surprisingly holds his own moderately well, although I highly doubt he will be hired as an action hero anytime in the near future, except for the sequel to this movie (Ludlum has written a couple of sequels). He is obviously more human than the typical action hero, but at times he seems overly caring, even for a spy who doesn't know who he is. Anyway, returning to the action part of the movie, there are some decent fight sequences, a car chase, and some shooting, but I really don't think Liman is that good of an action director. The scenes where Damon fights people hand-to-hand are not shot very well (though, compared to the sequel, are much, much better), and I never felt really drawn in to the action, did not feel much suspense. The big scene where Damon hunts down an assassin in a field could have been a lot better; this could have been a truly suspenseful sequence had it been more drawn out. Instead, it goes way too quickly.
The Bourne Identity is a fun and entertaining spy thriller, but lacks the complexity to make it a great one. I was expecting something a little faster and smarter, and somehow I think the novel had just that. Ludlum can't complain too much, though.
In addition, there is currently an Extended DVD version that adds a few minutes to the beginning and end, developing characters a bit more and making the overall experience just a smidgen more enjoyable. If you own the original DVD, this one may not be worth it in terms of direct movie content (though there are a few deleted scenes included as well); however, with featurettes that revolve around the author, the real CIA, the fight scenes and more, special feature fans may have to pick it up. More than anything else, the DVD is worth it because it includes a theatrical pass to The Bourne Supremacy, a far superior film in terms of excitement and plot.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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