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The Bourne Identity

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Bourne Identity

Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente
Director: Doug Liman
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 133 Minutes
Release Date: June 2002
Genres: Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Clive Owen, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Judy Parfitt, Julia Stiles

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie review
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Review by Harvey Karten
2 stars out of 4

Stories about characters with memory loss usually make for good drama, whether the loss explores scenes of poignancy, comedy or action. In Christopher Nolan's "Memento," Guy Pearce inhabits the role of a man with short-term memory loss who tries to keep his life in order while avenging his wife's murder. We in the audience are challenged to guess whether he is himself the killer. In Bille August's "A Song for Martin," a noted composer-conductor enjoying a late-life marriage is stricken with a swiftly-growing case of Alzheimer's, forcing his wife, a professional violinist, to give up her career to care for him.

"The Bourne Identity" is not poignant or sentimental: thrillers like this usually aren't. But Robert Ludlum's 500+ page book, wildly popular in its time, deals with a 33-year-old man who has lost his memory, a loss which permeates the entire story and provides the reader (and the movie audience now) with a challenge: can you figure out what the guy was doing when he was shot in the back three times outside Marseilles? We find out some 2/3 of the way into the picture. If you guessed the answer before that, you're ahead of the game. While advance reviews should not give away the answer to The Big Question to those who did not read the book and try mightily to figure out why everyone and his uncle is trying to assassinate the fellow, one thing is clear. Be prepared to be disappointed. The audience is likely to be befuddled for most of the picture because of the missing piece of the puzzle, while its revelation turns "The Bourne Identity" into a generic thriller with its car chases, machine gunning, and martial arts exhibits that are too edited to be believable.

If all this is true, how did the book become so popular? The answer is Robert Ludlum's writing which cannot be translated to the screen. Look at the first page:

"The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp. The waves rose to goliathan heights, crashing into the hull with the power of raw tonnage; the white sprays caught in the night sky cascaded downward on the deck under the force of the night wind. Everywhere there are the wounds of inanimate pain, wood straining against wood, ropes twisting, stretched to the breaking point." Ludlum is one of the great, contemporary, action-adventure prose stylists, but what is powerful prose in print becomes merely prosaic on the screen.

Doug Liman's film opens in the Mediterranean on a dark night, Bourne finding himself rescued on a fishing boat, unconscious after suffering from three bullet wounds in his back. When he wakes up, he discovers he cannot remember what he was doing to get into this position nor can he remember his name, but somehow he does know the number of a Swiss account that was created for him and is surprised to find a safe deposit box filled with currency of various European and U.S. denominations and about seven passports made out in different names. After a furious chase on Zurich streets (filmed in Prague) by officials who are steps behind him, he escapes in a car driven by Marie (Franka Potente), paying her $10,000 to drive her to Paris with $10,000 extra once they arrive. Little does Marie know that the twenty large is attached to a risk: her life is now in danger as agents of the U.S. government (the bad guys again) have pictures of Marie and Bourne together and are determined to gain closure over a project with extreme prejudice.

"The Bourne Identity" is mildly entertaining as most paranoid thrillers tend to be but while Chris Cooper gives us a nice turn as U.S. Agent Conklin--his mind made up to zap Jason Bourne for who-knows-what-reason--and while Matt Damon has the gravitas and the muscles to act his part well as the hunted- turning-hunter, the only aspect new and exciting is Franka Potente, given a chance to move beyond her niche with exciting, original, quirky, stylized fare like "Run Lola Run" and enter a big, bold, blockbusting bland and ultimately pedestrian entertainment like this one.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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