****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B
starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Clive Owen, Chris Cooper
screenplay by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum
directed by Doug Liman
by Walter Chaw The Bourne Identity is a composition of gestures stripped of romance and presented in their barest forms. It is the most cannily cinematic film of the year and one that, during its first half-hour, boasts blissfully of but one minute of dialogue. The picture recognizes that Matt Damon is best as an everyman with potential by presenting him as a character born at the age of thirty-three. And the Oedipal detective story that forms the centre of the tale ("Who am I?") is so ripe for examination that it may flower in time to be as debated and revered a fantasy as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (which likewise features the murder of The Father prior to a kind of manhood and subsequent mate choice). Very loosely based on Robert Ludlum's novel of the same name, indie punk Doug Liman (director of Swingers) has constructed a parable of self-discovery that can as easily be read as a subversion of the conventions of the thriller genre, a discussion of the ways in which the audience participates in the process of genre fiction, or as a science-fiction piece in which strangely robotic über menschen run amuck in a technocratic world metropolis.
Jason Bourne (Damon) is found floating in the Pacific with two bullets in his back and some sort of laser projector implanted in his hip. Born without memory of his past life (the title is the film's first puzzle, as it is really not so much a search for "Bourne's" identity as it is an examination of an identity at birth), Bourne finds himself oddly proficient in self-defence, preternaturally aware of his surroundings, and possessed of a Swiss bank account number (via the laser projector) leading to a safety deposit box full of enough passports and foreign currency to match his ability to speak several languages. Bourne enlists the help of bohemian Marie (Franka Potente), promising her twenty-thousand dollars should she agree to drive him from Zurich to Paris--where Jason Bourne, apparently, lives.
Liman's skill as a director of action already on display with the underestimated Go finds its fruition with The Bourne Identity. The sequences are kinetic, fair, and intelligent, every payoff packaged with a moment's contemplation crucial to the creation of tension. Its masterful car chase is introduced quietly, as is a struggle in Bourne's Paris flat, and each masterful segment is completed with a delirious deadpan understatement that pushes the film's technical mastery into the realm of sublimity. About hollow men, The Bourne Identity ends its set-pieces with sly whimpers rather than pyrotechnic bangs, subverting convention at every junction. The final action sequence, which unfolds in a circular stairwell, features a stunt that is at once dazzling and puzzling.
Take its last visceral revelation as an entry for further contemplation of certain other moments along the way--of why a seduction plays like Bourne's tentative deflowering, why he seems unable to sleep and is fascinated with children, and pay particular attention to the small surprises offered by a dying compatriot-turned-adversary. The Bourne Identity offers almost nothing in the way of conventional solutions to its puzzles--it isn't that the plot is particularly Byzantine, it's that the film steadfastly resists providing the resolutions that jaded audiences have come to expect. In the process, Liman provides almost as blank a slate as Bourne himself, a screen upon which we project our interpretations of Bourne's existence and impose rationale for his actions and his decisions.
The Bourne Identity is brilliant filmmaking, a testament to the editor's craft (Saar Klein) scored by a wise low-key techno-orchestration by composer John Powell that speaks to Liman's knack for using music to augment a scene (while leaving it unobscured) rather than narrate it. Marked by a particularly contentious shoot and cursed (or blessed) with a decided lack of studio confidence, The Bourne Identity is an independent filmmaker's sensibility translated to a mainstream picture. It is what Christopher Nolan's Insomnia was not: an artistically true big-budget picture and a thorny trip across genre divides that is well performed (Chris Cooper and Brian Cox provide superb backup), economically scripted, and genuinely exciting. Originally published: June 14, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Number three on my list of the year's best films and number five on Walter's, The Bourne Identity comes to DVD in separate widescreen and fullscreen Collector's Editions from Universal. We received the former for review, thank goodness, although the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does lead to some measure of disappointment due to poor shadow detail, an occasionally toxic combination with the low-contrast nature of the film. I had assumed that the small payload of extras, in addition to the three included 5.1 tracks (one of which is DTS), came at great expense to video quality until I checked the bitrate of this single-platter release, which averages a respectable 8mbps; we may have to chalk The Bourne Identity up to being a picture that simply looks better on the big screen.
DTS benefits the opening boat sequence (pronouncing the churning gears of the vessel more dramatically in the rear channels) and closing title music ("Extreme Ways" by Moby) the most over Dolby Digital. This is a subdued mix despite The Bourne Identity's action slant, forgoing any kind of inorganic bass effects entirely. The "piano" logo kicks off the DTS version, followed by 2.0 stereo commercials for the upcoming Rowan Atkinson vehicle Johnny English and this DVD's Total AXess ROM supplement, whose content goes live on January 21st.
Director Doug Liman begins a charming commentary track (which he dedicates to the late Robert Ludlum) by making an extremely intelligent point about preserving the music that backs the studio logo preceding your film, as it cues the audience to be quiet. (Liman learned this the hard way in deleting the Universal theme from The Bourne Identity.) Acknowledging that his own left-wing political agenda informed part of the film's narrative, Liman, whose father was an interrogator in the Iran-Contra trial, praises the perqs of studio filmmaking (while toning down the anti-Universal sentiments he expressed to the media last year), illustrates the importance of directing a French crew in their native tongue, laughs at how coveted the "f" word was by the actors (the film was allowed only one because of the PG-13 rating), and so on.
Liman alludes to a thematically important scene featured in the European cut of The Bourne Identity that's here as well in a section of bonus material, an extended dinner conversation at the farmhouse wherein Bourne interacts with the children of his hosts. Four other deleted scenes (in 4:3 letterbox), one of which recalls the lamented epilogue to Psycho in having a therapist profile Bourne for his ex-colleagues, plus a too-mushy alternate ending, standard-stuff making-of ("The Birth of The Bourne Identity" (15 mins.)), the Bourne-laced video for Moby's "Extreme Ways," the film's trailer, and select cast and crew biographies and filmographies round out a nice package that will suffice until the inevitable Ultimate Edition. Originally published: January 15, 2003.