June 13-19, 2002
Spies Like Bust
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne IdentityDirected by Doug Liman A Universal release Opens Friday at area theaters
If you ignore the news and judge according to recent movies, today’s CIA is doing all right. Gone are those days when the Agency (or its metaphorical equivalent) was corrupt and inept by definition, in need of righteous resistance by Robert Redford or Warren Beatty. In films like The Sum of All Fears or Bad Company, the CIA, for all its bureaucracy and complexity, looks to be doing great work, defending the U.S. against terrorists and fighting for freedom all over the world.
But here comes The Bourne Identity, swimming against the tide. Its CIA is a sinister and duplicitous organization, funded by a blissfully ignorant Congress, determined to do and cover up its self-assigned work. Based on Robert Ludlum's popular novel, the film is directed by Doug Liman (who made Swingers and Go), starring Matt Damon (who is, by most anyone's measure, a most unlikely action hero) and featuring the usual spy picture's preposterous premise, namely, that Damon's Jason Bourne is a super-operative who's lost his memory due to some recent on-the-job trauma. As he gradually learns who he is and how he's come to have these startling killer skills, he decides to fight against the very Agency that made him. Or, at least, against the various individuals it sends to stop him, including a high-powered rifleman called The Professor (Clive Owen), a computer expert (Julia Stiles, mostly looking forlorn) and his own furious, reputation-on-the-line project supervisor (Chris Cooper).
It's cockamamie, yes, and by all rights, it shouldn't work. But The Bourne Identity is so free-fallingly bizarre, so in love with its own narrative absurdities, violent bone-crunching (see especially the moment when Bourne uses a corpse to break his leap off a stairwell) and stylistic flourishes (fast-motion shots, fast-cut editing, spinning cameras), that, after a while, you just go with it.
As the film begins, a fishing boat pulls a corpselike Jason out of the Mediterranean Sea. The doctor picks a few bullets out of his back and a strange capsule out of his hip, during which process Bourne regains consciousness and displays -- much to his own surprise -- extraordinary fighting skills. The capsule contains info on a safe deposit box in Zurich, where he finds an assortment of passports and a big pile of money and, eventually, pieces together that he's an assassin who failed to take out his last target, an African leader spurned by the U.S. who's now threatening to expose the Agency's dirty deeds, Nykwana Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known as Oz's ruthless, sadly dead Simon Adebisi).
Bourne goes on the run, aided by a girl he meets at the U.S. Embassy, Marie (Franka Potente), whom he pays to drive him to Paris, where he apparently has an apartment, as well as a hotel reservation under another name. Though her new chum's inscrutability seems initially seductive, Marie is increasingly, very reasonably alarmed by his brutality. Bad decisions and coincidences abound. What makes the most sense is Bourne/Damon's own perpetual, slight smirk of surprise at himself and all that collapses in chaos around him. It seems an uncannily appropriate way to think about the CIA right about now.