The Bourne Identity

  • The Brains behind "Project Greenlight
  • Lola Slowing Down
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Directed by A Great Director Who Will Never Get a Big Budget Ever Again "If you don't take this, Ben will find it and just blow it all on coke and hookers. This is Bob and Harvey's money. They might just kill us over it!"
The Downturn of the Indie Takeover?

I don't know about you, but I've been encouraged by the big-budget forays that some of these independent filmmakers have been taking lately. Learning from Granddaddy Soderberg, we've got to see studio hits from art house flavors Sam Raimi (Spider Man) and Christopher Nolan (Insomniac) in the past month alone with promising potentials from Sam Mendes (The Road to Perdition) and Ang Lee (The Hulk) in the near future. These guys have been given the keys to the front studios with the hopes that they will bring an excitement and an originality that can't come from Michael Bay or Joel Schumacher, to name a couple from Ranch Bruckheimer. And thus far, these guys have added character dimensions and plot angles to these tired genre stories. Maybe this is the renaissance of modern Hollywood. And I'm sure that Universal was expecting the same thing when they dusted off an adaptation of Robert Ludlum's pulp classic The Bourne Identity and decided to punt kick the project to Doug Liman, the playful and hyperactive director behind 1996's Swingers and 1999's Go. This guy could take Rat Pack-wannabees or misfit teens and suck them into the pop culture vacuum of the 90's with humor and style. Think of all things he could do with this somewhat secondhand story of a spy searching for his memory and his purpose! Well, the result is a film that certainly feels and looks like a secondhand story that just happens to waste an enormously talented cast and adds a kinda-sort of hip soundtrack in the background. It's far more disheartening than it sounds.

Matt Damon is Jason Bourne, a guy who finds himself at the beginning of the film floating in the ocean with two bullet holes in his back and no memory. He then spends the rest of the film trying to figure out who he is. And, quite unintentionally, we never really figure anything out who he is, either. Since this is a character which requires an emotional investment from the audience, unlike the necessity of uncertainty in Memento, we must care about this guy and why he is conflicted. But the film and the performer gives us no reason to. Damon plays Bourne like the Bionic Ken doll with nothing to latch on to. There's no desire, there's no rage, and there's no purpose. When his identity is more thoroughly revealed, this makes some sense but that an interesting character does not make. And what is he searching for? Well, he's trying to figure out who he's a spy for. And that's it. No bigger picture. No subtext. No DEEPER MEANING. That's what we have to follow for two hours and five minutes. But perhaps the other characters in the film will flesh some of this out. Well, despite the pedigree of the cast, they never seem to get the substance that the material demands them to use. Franka Potente plays Marie, a bystander who becomes a culprit and love interest to Bourne. I got the sense that at some point she was supposed to be a moral sense of reason for the ambiguous and confused Bourne or, at the very least, the audience's surrogate in the main character's quest. But that last point is not necessary since the quest is so bare-boned and undefined anyway. And Potente, who proved herself as a fantastic film heroine in Run Lola Run and The Princess and the Warrior, is merely reduced to playing a screaming and wincing love interest. A more intelligent-acting Bond girl, in other words. Then, Clive Owen plays The Professor, a fellow assassin who is merely shown setting up hits and following the main character around until he finally encounters Bourne and spouts out dialogue that suggest a mirror image to Bourne, but nothing was done with this before or after this scene to back this IMPORTANT MOMENT. So who cares? And why did actors like Julia Stiles and Chris Cooper take roles where their essential purpose is to stand around and look so concerned? (Or, in Stiles case, make breathless calls on her cell phone. Geez, who knew roles for young actresses was so slight?)

My guess is that they were drawn, as I was as an audience member, to the director Liman. Because, despite how bad this somewhat pointless script probably read, they must have thought that he would bring some personal touches to the film and the story. But this is the biggest scam of all: The only thing that keeps this from being the new Bond film or the new Jack Ryan film is (1) The cast and (2) The soundtrack. The cast has been covered. And I'm sorry but adding some copy of copies of Chemical Brothers beats to a car chase in Paris is not going to make it better than John Frankenheimer's stylized sequences in, oh say, Ronin. It doesn't even come close. And this is all that he adds to the film. I was at least expecting some style or some humor from the guy who introduced the likes of Vince Vaughn and Sarah Polley to the mainstream but we didn't get that. I would much, much rather have the slick bravado and ironic pompousness of Spy Game before I took another dose of this Ian Fleming retread. I'm not impressed and I think of it as rather insulting. Universal humped and pimped this movie as a new and hip kind of spy film. Not your father's Oldsmobile. That sort of thing. But I dare you to find anything that is remotely fresh or interesting about this film. Or anything that hasn't been done with an older cast or worse music. I mean, at least a movie like Spy Kids can have hip new clothes and try something new. That's right: Robert Rodriguez's is less of a sellout for his Miramax/Antonio Banderas kids movie than Doug Liman is here with The Bourne Identity . I don't care if he did scrap a climactic action scene that cost the production $1.5 million. Premiere Magazine may call that a daring move, but I call it wasteful. Maybe, if 'ol Doug had thought this script out a little better in pre-production then he wouldn't have had to wring his hands so much later on.

So, does this put the takeover on hold? I doubt it. It will take a lot of failures and pratfalls to erase the impact of films like Out of Sight, O Brother, Where Art Thou and Spider Man. I just don't understand why a studio would take the trouble to seek out a great, small director and then neuter him when they could just as easily go down to the MTV lot and find a pre-clipped, Simon West-wannabe directing The Osbournes and have him direct it instead. It saves time and energy for everyone. But instead, The Bourne Identity goes to being from bad to sad. And all I can hope is that Spike Jonze and Kimberly Pierce watch out for any studio head in their Molester Vans. They could be next.

The Pitch:
1 Memento
1 Mr. Ripley
2 The Bourne Identity
See It For:
Matt Dismayed by His Photos with Winona Ryder in the New York Post.