Keepin’ it real
Matt Damon’s first foray into action films, The Bourne Identity, stands tall this summer
When a summer thriller is really working, you can almost hear the clicking of the gears just under the surface—the elaborately constructed plotting, the cool and efficient acting, the director’s sure hand in every carefully interlocking detail.
Doug Liman’s new entry, The Bourne Identity, clicks like a metronome. It is an impressive machine, wound up from Robert Ludlum’s early 1980s thriller and sprung forth on an audience (or maybe just this critic) already bleary eyed from the usual clattering failures born of Hollywood’s worst impulses (see genre-kin The Sum of All Fears. Better yet, don’t).
Staring Matt Damon, one of the unlikeliest but most charmingly apt actors ever up for a beefy action role, the film picks up with Damon being found drifting unconscious in the middle of a stormy Mediterranean night, his memory sandpapered from his brain by whatever turn of events that, well, got him drifting unconscious in the middle of a stormy Mediterranean night. Once back on land, the man with no past finds he can speak every language on the continent and has the reflexes and muscle memory to start and win fights with anyone he encounters. And then there’s the little point of a group of rogue CIA agents trying to hunt him down and kill him for reasons he, well, can’t remember.
Liman, who gave us the minor classics Swingers and Go a few years back, slips effortlessly into the directing chores of this big-budget chase and has the wit to inject his independent sensibilities at every turn. After Damon and unwitting cohort Franka Potente (Run, Lola, Run) grind gears through the streets, sidewalks and thin alleys of Paris in what can only be described as an exhilaratingly real car chase, Liman gives the actors a moment to absorb the thrills as real people might: with astounded, even giddy, fear.
What saves Identity from the fate of many competent-but-bloodless rocket rides is his willingness to work, along with Damon and Potente, to keep the action as much in the guts and heads of the characters as in their guns and fists. There is a brutal melancholy under all the stunts that strikes home in a very affecting way.
While it isn’t one to stand for the ages, The Bourne Identity definitely stands tall this summer.