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The Bourne Identity (PG-13)
Official Site
Director: Doug Liman
Producers: Patrick Crowley, Richard N. Gladstein, Doug Liman
Written by: Tony Gilroy & William Blake Herron
Cast: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Julia Stiles, Brian Cox

Rating: out of 5

Itís quite possible that no other director working today appreciates the effect music has on film more than Doug Liman (although I guess you could make a case for Cameron Crowe if you felt the need, but thatís so obvious). In Swingers and Go, the music serves to heighten the whole pose of each film, becoming a character in itself as it brings to life an L.A. and a Las Vegas mired in their own excess.

In The Bourne Identity (based on Robert Ludlumís 1980 novel), lounge-lizard croons groove-funk standards are replaced by a synth-pop version of spy music, a kind of digital-age ďMission: ImpossibleĒ soundtrack. The music beats and bumps its way through the story of Jason Bourne (Damon), found floating miles offshore with two bullets in his back and a bank account number implanted beneath the skin of his hip. Suffering from amnesia, Bourne uses the account number to track down a safety deposit box, in which he discovers his name, a few million bucks in cash, several fake passports, a gun, and a few incendiary devices. He also discovers, in a couple of terrifically choreographed scenes, some amazing abilities at hand-to-hand combat and escape tactics, and finds that he can speak several languages fluently. Eventually, he finds himself on the run as he tries to figure out who he is and why heís, in fact, running, accompanied by Marie (Potente), a young woman heís paid to drive him to Paris, where he believes he lives.

The Bourne Identity is one of those instances of the Hollywood machine firing on all cylinders. It takes a very simple formula and does everything exactly right, without breaking any new ground. The chases, the fights, everything, are composed for two purposes: to entertain, and to waste no time in doing so. Screenwriters Gilroy and Herron string together the scenes to make the theme and details fit together in a very accessible way, but keep from hitting you over the head with the plot. Matt Damon proves to be a viable action hero, and thereís actually a quiet performance behind the heroics. You can see how the actions take control of Bourne, and Damon allows for these great little moments of subtle bemusement as Bourne finds himself taking two armed policemen to the ground without breaking a sweat, or scaling down a wall with the grace and balance of a cat.

As Marie, Franka Potente makes the film even more of a pleasure to watch, with her dryly humorous way of talking to Bourne and her ability to make both him and the audience aware of the human side of fugitive life. She is a very likeable actress, and also extremely talented (as fans of Run, Lola, Run can attest). This is her highest-profile American role to date, after several years of making movies in her native Germany, and the fact that she has only a slight accent gives me hope that she will soon find more opportunities in Hollywood.

The supporting cast is only marginally defined, although Chris Cooper (American Beauty) and Brian Cox (Manhunter, L.I.E.) do lend gravity as government heavyweights searching for Bourne. Julia Stilesí meager and, sadly, meaningless screen time leads me to believe that the bulk of her performance ended up on the cutting-room floor.

But itís a minor flaw. The Bourne Identity is a more accessible, less exploitative kid brother to 007ís library of espionage kicks. Jason Bourne (note the initials) is James Bond without the attitude or the finesse, which makes him more easily relatable. In a way, the throwaway high I got from The Bourne Identity was actually better than anything James Bond has brought my way. And I think thatís the best thing about The Bourne Identity. Youíll watch it, youíll enjoy it, and then youíll leave, and you wonít think about it again. Nothing wrong with that.

óCole Sowell

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

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