Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Movie review: The Bourne Identity, dir Doug Liman (2002)

You don’t see many old action flics listed on Netflix, so when the icon for this one caught my eye I was intrigued. On an earlier occasion I had seen one of the movies in the franchise, but I hadn’t seen the first of them, so I clicked “Play”. I was entertained. There are so many dud films on Netflix, you are lucky if you finish one in three that you start (at least, that’s my experience so far).

Matt Damon looks young in this almost 20-year-old film. The cathode-ray tubes attached to personal computers in the office Conklin (a heavy-lidded and saturnine Chris Cooper) heads and the flip phones everyone uses are lively timestamps of an earlier era, but apart from that the ingredients used in this film are familiar to anyone who has watched Tom Cruise in a ‘Mission: Impossible’ film.

For example, the car chase around Paris streets with Bourne and Marie (Franka Potente) in a red Mini. The scene in a Swiss bank reminded me of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (2011; based on Stieg Larsson’s 2005 novel of the same name) as did Bourne’s tony Paris apartment.

Poetry is added by shots of the Mediterranean seen close up at night and by scenes showing mountain roads during the day as Bourne and Marie drive from Switzerland to Paris. Winter scenes shot in hilly French countryside are also evocative and moody; the terrain and the cinematography giving these scenes a claustrophobic feel that lends drama to the action.

Clive Owen is good though his time on-screen is short. As far as the writing goes, Bourne’s interior life is richly realised and romance adds lustre to the product. The film stands up despite the passage of time unlike ‘The Bourne Legacy’ (2012), part of which I also watched at around the same time.

This later film has a different director (Tom Gilroy, who co-wrote the three earlier films in the franchise) and a different primary actor (Jeremy Renner), and its feel is less poetic, more procedural. In this film, there is something mechanical about the plot and the characters do not engage you as much as do the ones in the earlier film. ‘The Bourne Legacy’ begins with a shot of Renner lying face-down in a body of water (shot, as in the opening of ‘The Bourne Identity’, from below) but the similarities between the movies are mainly those stemming from the story, which turns on the fate of an elite band of US-government killers managed under the program name Treadstone. As artworks, the two films are very different.

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