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Rated 3.02 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
by Betty Jo Tucker

Never having suffered from amnesia, I can only imagine how terrifying that condition must be. If, like the main character in The Bourne Identity, you’re a highly trained agent involved in covert activity, it could lead to disaster. After reading Robert Ludlum’s exciting book upon which this thriller is based -- and viewing the excellent television miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain, I looked forward eagerly to the movie treatment. Despite major plot changes, jerky camera movements, and very loud sound effects, I found this version of Ludlum’s spy yarn equally intriguing.

Because I have a fear of the water, any story that starts off with a person almost drowning has me frightened already – so the opening sequence of The Bourne Identity got my complete attention. Found floating unconscious in stormy waters off the coast of France, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) wakes up with no memory of his past. The film then traces his efforts to discover who he is and what he’s involved in.

Damon (The Talented Mr. Ripley) plays Bourne as a new breed of spy hero. Credit for a different approach here goes to director Doug Liman (Swingers) who wanted to create a film of this genre for his generation. Liman says, "Most of the spy films I’ve seen have had nothing in common with anyone I’ve ever known. I’ve spent time in Washington D.C. through my father’s work on Iran-Contra and I’ve seen real spies in action."

Damon as action hero? That possibility bothered me before seeing him as Jason Bourne. But The Bourne Identity is not a standard Hollywood action movie. It’s more character-driven than action-driven. As Damon explains, "I knew that if I was ever going to try something like this, I'd want to do it with a guy like Liman." Damon’s Bourne emerges ten years younger than depicted in Ludlum’s spy novel, and the actor combines his considerable acting talent with unexpected skill in Thai boxing and karati to give Bourne a breadth and depth of character – something lacking in many spy heroes. This Bourne is definitely not a James Bond type of guy.

Damon does an excellent job of projecting confusion over why so many people are trying to kill off his character. What people? Well, practically everyone. Fortunately, our hero recruits a helper in Marie Kruetz (Franke Potente from Run Lola Run), a sort of wandering gypsy who reluctantly accepts $10,000 from him for a drive to Paris in her battered red Austin Mini Cooper. Where did Bourne get so much money? From a numbered Zurich account implanted in his hip. (Doesn’t everyone have one?)

Although Bourne has lost all recollection of his identity, he still remembers most of his spy training – which turns out to be extremely valuable in dealing with ruthless agents of Treadstone, a controversial clandestine operation, who are assigned to "neutralize" him ASAP. Bourne and Marie run and hide, then run and hide again and again. But that’s okay with me. I never got tired of watching Robert Redford run and hide with Faye Dunaway in Three Days of the Condor, either.

Supporting cast members Chris Cooper (Lone Star), Brian Cox (Rushmore), and Clive Owen (Gosford Park) manage to convince me of their villainy without pulling out all the stops like 007’s adversaries. And beautiful European locations enhance scenes throughout The Bourne Identity. It’s a pleasure to see famous Parisian sites like the banks of the Seine, the Notre Dame de Paris, the Hotel Regina, and a futuristic entertainment complex (La Defense) as backdrops here. They lend a touch of authenticity to some rather farfetched events – such as Bourne grabbing a portly assassin and using him as a cushion for a high-jump landing.

Although Jason Bourne dislikes what he finds out about his past, I have the feeling he’ll turn up a much better person in the sequel. Betcha someone is already negotiating with Mr. Ludlum about that possibility.

(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "PG-13" for violence and some language.)

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