Thursday 9 August 2012

From the archive: "The Bourne Identity"

First Memento, now The Bourne Identity: the postmodern condition may be so compelling that moviegoers are in for a whole cycle of films about amnesiacs with violent tendencies, dramatising a very contemporary fear that we don't know who we really are, we wouldn't like who we are were we to find out, and that society is increasingly filling up with individuals liable to lash out at anybody who blocks or crosses their efforts to find out who they really are. Doug Liman's actioner introduces us to a hero who is, right from the word go, all at sea in the world, dumped into the Mediterranean with two slugs in his back after a failed assassination attempt on an African dictator. Matt Damon is the man who may or may not be Jason Bourne, an American agent on the run from the CIA after that latest mission was compromised; though he isn't aware of any of this, of course, because he can't remember a thing about his previous life, and so doesn't know why all these American-trained European agents keep coming at him.

Making a step up in scope and resources after the relatively indie Swingers and Go, Liman has turned in a solid, proficient action-thriller, distinguished by the manner in which it rarely seems to have to strain for effect: this kind of filmmaking looks to come as easily to the director as neck-snapping violence does to his protagonist. It plays a little long, which is a problem, because the film's second half - in which our hero's movement across Europe is checked in Paris as Bourne chases a paper trail and the Agency ties up its loose ends - isn't nearly as much a revelation as the first. But the cast is full of odd, unexpected delights, more than enough to get you through the two hours: Chris Cooper as the CIA boss and Clive Owen as his top gun, Tim Dutton as an Englishman abroad, Julia Stiles in Paris in the wintertime, and Franka Potente, sparky indeed as Bourne's accidental sidekick, whose common sense comes to cut through her co-star's rigid intelligence training. Let's face it, if you were going to go on the run, you might as well run alongside Lola.

(September 2002)

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