*The Bourne Identity (PG-13)
As an action hero, Matt Damon kicks his good buddy Ben Affleck's butt. Where Affleck usually compensates for his lack of range by over-acting and furrowing his brow, Damon plays it low to the ground and laid back, with a slow, crooked grin that never translates as a smirk. He possesses an innocent, boyish quality that has worked well for him in diverse roles from Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley to John Grady Cole in All the Pretty Horses. This is Damon's first attempt at a pure action role and, as usual, he more than compensates.
In The Bourne Identity, directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, Go!) and loosely adapted for the screen from the Robert Ludlum thriller, Damon is Jason Bourne, a souped-up American spy who is found by a boat of French fishermen, floating in the Mediterranean Sea with two bullets in his back and a microchip in his hip. Jason has no memory of who he was before he was shot and left to die, and quickly discovers that he must get back to Paris to track down his identity. Enter Franka Potente (the German actress who charmed audiences in the German indie hit Run Lola Run) as Marie, an unemployed wanderer who happily accepts $20,000 from Jason to drive him to Paris.
Although he's lost his memory, Jason hasn't lost his instincts. He knows he's being followed and that someone wants him dead. The tension builds slowly and by the time he reaches his Paris apartment, the audience is duly on-edge. Bullets begin to fly and car chases ensue, all nicely choreographed and not overblown with the fireball explosions we've come to expect from directors who dominate the genre (read: Jerry Bruckheimer, The Sum of All Fears). Here, we are drawn into the human drama of the chase by the finely drawn characters, the intriguing location shots in the streets of Paris and a script as precisely drawn as a good mystery novel. The plot is somewhat thin but the ride is still rich with plenty of well-timed twists and turns.
Turns out, the guy who wants Bourne dead is his former CIA boss Ted Conklin, played by the deliciously edgy Chris Cooper (American Beauty). Their final stand-off is an extended white-knuckle moment and the ending provides a satisfying twist on power and authority among covert types. Equally satisfying is the lightly drawn and nicely acted romance between Jason and Marie.
The Bourne Identity doesn't try to be a landmark action thriller with killer effects and a billion-dollar afterlife; it merely strives for solid action, good storytelling, some entertaining characters and decent performances. It succeeds beautifully.
-- Kathryn Eastburn