The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity
Director: Doug Liman
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron (based on the novel by Robert Ludlum)
Stars: Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Franka Potente (Marie Kreutz), Clive Owen (The Professor), Chris Cooper (Ted Conklin), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Nykwana Wombosi), Julia Stiles (Nicolette), Brian Cox (Ward Abbott)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2002
Country: U.S.
The Bourne Identity Blu-Ray
Who am I?When The Bourne Identity was released in 2002, Stallone and Schwarzenegger, the previous reigning kings of action cinema, were officially dead at the box office and the James Bond series was still chugging away with Pierce Brosnan, but with an increasingly heartless automatism, which left an enormous gap in the middle of the action-adventure genre that was desperately crying to be filled. Although it has since developed into an enormously popular and critically acclaimed series, at the time The Bourne Identity seemed an odd bid to fill that slot, being a three-years-in-the-making $60-million thriller helmed by an indie auteur and lacking a proven action star. Yet, it turned out to be a step in the right direction, with its sharp, punchy escapism and lack of sentimentality providing something simultaneously old and new.

The film is old-fashioned in the sense that it is an old-school spy thriller, in this case based on the best-selling 1980 novel by the late spy novelist Robert Ludlum. At the same time, though, it boasts up-to-date hipness both in front of and behind the camera. Where someone as dull as Richard Chamberlain played the story’s hero in the 1988 television mini-series of the same name, the film introduced versatile pin-up Matt Damon in his bid to be taken seriously as an action hero, which turned out to be a compelling choice. Behind the camera we get director Doug Liman, the aspiring auteur who directed the cultish comedy Swingers (1996) and the Tarantinoesque/Altmanesque (pick your director-derived adjective) multi-narrative romp Go (1999). Neither was a resounding hit (although both have intense followings), which made it all the more surprising that Universal entrusted him with what ultimately turned out to be a lucrative franchise.

Damon plays the movie’s namesake, Jason Bourne, who appeared in a trilogy of Ludlum’s novels. Here he is introduced as a man found floating in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea one night with two bullets in his back and no memory. Simultaneously desperate to discover who he is and terrified to know, he goes about searching out his identity, first at a Swiss bank where he finds a safety deposit box filled with passports, cash from dozens of countries, and a gun. Some things he doesn’t have to try to remember, such as his amazing ability to beat the bejesus out of anyone who threatens him. He freaks himself out by being automatically wary--memorizing license plate numbers, scoping out exits, and sizing up everyone in a room as if by instinct.

But, Bourne has bigger problems than trying to figure out who he is. Apparently, certain members of the CIA want him dead, particularly Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper), who at one point activates every agent in all of Europe to track Bourne down. In escaping one of many frying pans, Bourne hooks up with a young wanderer named Marie (Run Lola Run’s Franka Potente), who agrees to drive him to Paris. After that, she’s in as deeply as he is.

The story tears across the European map from one action set-piece to another: a fight at the American embassy in Zurich, another fight in Bourne’s apartment in Paris that is followed by a rip-roaring car chase through the narrow Parisian boulevards, and then a game of cat-and-mouse between two assassins in the French countryside. Liman proved to be a surprisingly good action director (which has since become his genre of choice), making even the most routine spectacle seem a little more interesting than it probably should be.

There is one particularly vertiginous scene that finds Bourne dangling from the outer walls of the American embassy, and Liman films it with head-spinning extreme high and low angles and almost no sound. Later, he drops all restraint and gives us a patently ludicrous moment in which Bourne drops five stories down a stairwell and uses a corpse as a landing pad. Uh-huh. Liman also seems particularly intent on making us squirm in our seats at the little excruciating moments that often get glossed over in slick action vehicles, as he shows in gruesome detail the bullets being extracted from Bourne’s back and a throwaway moment in the middle of a fight when a baddie takes a moment to pull a ballpoint pen from the flesh on top of his hand where Bourne had just jabbed it.

As far as the performances go, Damon is an effective anti-Stallone; he brings the fierce intelligence (and sometimes the anger) from Good Will Hunting (1997) and laces it with the cunning of The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), but without the moral and emotional uncertainty. There is a fundamental frustration that drives his character, as you get the sense that deep inside he is a man who is used to being in constant control, and now has no idea what is going on. Although he’s not physically imposing, Damon comes across quite credibly as the kind of guy who could get out of the sticky situations in which screenwriters Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron are constantly putting him. Franka Potente, in her first significant English-language role (she had a bit part in Ted Demme's Blow), brings a charm and sensuality to her character, and if there are any jokes in the movie, she gets to utter them (when she and Borne ring the doorbell at his Paris apartment and there is no answer, she quips, “I guess you’re not home”). She and Damon develop a solid chemistry, so that even the obligatory re-coupling at the end works despite itself.

There are moments when you can feel Liman trying a little too hard, particularly with his constantly roving camera. The insistent movement gives the movie a much-needed sense of urgency, but sometimes it whip-pans around a crowded CIA office a little too much. At the same time, though, there are moments when he shows great composure and restraint, as in the aforementioned scene that finds Bourne slowly climbing his way down the side of the U.S. embassy. Liman gets good performances from his actors, though, and he works his way through the convoluted plot so that we’re only slightly confused at the end, which in movies of this sort is some kind of accomplishment in and of itself.

The Bourne Identity Blu-Ray + DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • French DTS 5.1 surround
  • Spanish DTS 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by director Doug Liman
  • “The Ludlum Identity” featurette
  • “The Ludlum Supremacy” featurette
  • “The Ludlum Ultimatum” featurette
  • “The Birth of the Bourne Identity” featurette
  • “The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum” featurette
  • “Access Granted: Interview with Screenwriter Tony Gilroy”
  • “From Identity to Supremacy: Jason & Marie” featurette
  • “The Bourne Diagnosis” featurette
  • “Cloak and Dagger” featurette
  • “Inside a Fight Sequence” featurette
  • Four deleted scenes and one extended scene
  • Alternate opening and ending
  • Moby “Extreme Ways” music video
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • U-Control
  • DistributorUniversal Studios Home Entertainment
    Release DateJanuary 19, 2010

    With all three of the Bourne films, Universal is the first studio to bring to Blu-Ray one of the initial appeals of the now defunct HD-DVD format, which is the ability to have high-def on one side and DVD on the other side of a single disc. The high-definition image on the Blu-Ray side was most likely taken from the same master that was used to produce the previously available HD-DVD disc, and it looks great. Detail is smooth and clear and colors are strong and lifelike. There are few instances of any speckling or print damage, and the image has not been overly digitized so it maintains an appropriately filmlike appearance. The DTS-HD 5.1 surround soundtrack does a fine job of immersing us in the in the action, especially during the chase sequences, but it is also excellent in bringing out the small details, such as in the nearly silent sequence when Bourne scales his way down the outside wall of the embassy.
    New to the Blu-Ray is Universal’s signature U-Control, which allows viewers to access information about the film’s production and background via both on-screen text and relevant parts of the supplements displayed via picture-in-picture while watching the film. BD-Live also allows you to share your favorite clips via the Internet, record your own video commentary and share it via the Internet, bookmark your favorite scenes, and play the interactive “Bourne Card Strategy Challenge.”

    The rest of the supplements will be familiar to those who already had the DVD or HD-DVD. Director Doug Liman provides an engaging and extremely detailed audio commentary, while the bulk of the supplementary material is given over to a mixture of short and longer featurettes (some are less than five minutes long, while one runs close to half an hour): “The Ludlum Identity,” which uses archival interviews with friends, colleagues, family members, and Robert Ludlum himself; “The Ludlum Supremacy: Who is Jason Bourne?” and “The Ludlum Ultimatum,” both of which explore the character’s origins and his enduring audience appeal; “The Birth of The Bourne Identity,” which is fairly standard-issue EPK material; “The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum,” which further explores the late author; “Access Granted,” which is an all-too-brief interview with screenwriter Tony Gilroy about the challenges of adapting Ludlum’s 500-page book; “From Identity to Supremacy: Jason & Marie,” which interviews Matt Damon and Franka Potente about their roles in the film; “The Bourne Diagnosis,” which allows UCLA psychologist Reef Karim to discuss the realities and exaggerations of Bourne’s struggle with amnesia; “Cloak and Dagger: Covert Ops,” in which CIA liaison officer Chase Brandon offers his analysis of what it takes to make a super-spy; and “Inside a Fight Sequence,” which gives us an inside view of the fight choreography in the U.S. Embassy fight sequence. Also included on the disc are an alternate opening and ending, both of which are introduced by producer Frank Marshall, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and actor Brian Cox; four deleted scenes and one extended scene, all of which are presented in relatively poor VHS quality; Moby’s “Extreme Ways” music video; and the original theatrical trailer.

    Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Universal Studios Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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