The Bourne Identity-I Can't Remember If I Liked It...
There is a real unserved market where good, at note good is the key word, spy-action movies are concerned. This simple fact is at the heart of why The Bourne Identity and its sequel have been successful. Truth be told most people familiar with Robert Ludlum's books would probably tell you he is somewhat overrated, at least if they are not the spineless, boot licking types. Cranking out tons of pages doesn't necessarily mean that your producing good work, but that aside the screenplay by John Gilroy, which is really only loosely based on Ludlum novel, is decent but littered with cliches as well as other problems. One key flaw is the whole amnesia issue which is just played to death.
You see Bourne, played by Matt Damon, awakens with amnesia and has to rediscover who he is. This is key to the first movie, and while this aspect of the story is executed well, using the amnesia crutch is a pretty crappy thing to do audiences in the 21st century. In order to use the amnesia bit you really, really have to have a unique take on this particular writing crutch and end up in a very, very cool place. The Bourne Identity does not end up in a cool enough place to justify whipping out the whole Ronnie Reagan, “I don't recall” bit. Just doesn't fly. Its the lazy writers tool.
Screenplay and conceptual flaws aside, what elevates The Bourne Identity is the stylish directing of Doug Liman, who also directed one of the worse films of recent memory, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but that is a different review, of course, and the problem with that film was not the direction, which was slick, but the horrible script and flawed, deeply flawed, moronic concept. Liman and cinematographer Oliver Wood, who god help him as seen some scary stuff, such as working on The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Scooby Doo 2, deserve a lot of credit for slick look of the film.
All the gun play and action help camouflage, to some extent, the fact that Matt Damon can't really act, but Bourne is probably his most believable role to date. Maybe, we'll get lucky and he'll grow into it. Julia Stiles, the overlooked and underappreciated Franka Potente from Run Lola Run and Clive Owen are all very good and help smooth out some of Damon's scenes.
There are, lots of twist and turns, lots of running from location to location, which all add to the big feel of the film. It should be noted that the budget for The Bourne Identity is in the $50-$60 million dollar range which is actually impressive in today's Hollywood's Gone Mad era of price tags.
The Bourne Identity does not prove that people want more Ludlum books made into novel or that Matt Damon is a box-office draw, as a lot of folks avoid movies with Damon in them, and with good reason. What The Bourne Identity shows is that there is a real thirst for spy-action flicks. This fact, combined with some good pacing and a screenplay, that while flawed had just enough intelligence to get the job done, is why The Bourne Identity sold tickets.
Story C+ (If you are going to throw in the whole, “I have amnesia” bit, the payoff better rock and it just doesn't rock in The Bourne Identity.)
Acting C+ (Damon is barely passable, but most of the rest of the cast is good enough.)
Originality/Innovation C- (Its hard to give high marks for originality when your film is based off a book from, what the 1980's, come on!)
Enjoyability Grade C+
Home Theater/HD Factor A- (The Bourne Identity will look and sound great on a quality home theater system.)
Overall Grade B- ( Once more Hollywood taps either a sequel, a television show or a well-known book for its all important name recognition. This trend away from creativity and towards the mundane is likely to continue until Los Angeles receives a true wake up call like auto industry in Detroit did not so long ago. That's just human nature.)