|Bourne Identity, The|
|HD DVD Mystery-Suspense|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Saturday, 01 September 2007|
When the movie of “The Bourne Identity” was announced, it seemed that Universal’s gears had slipped a cog. The Robert Ludlum novel had already been done as a TV miniseries in 1988. And Matt Damon as the lead? Give us a break—Matt Damon, action star. Hardy har har.
Then the movie was released and the laughter was silenced at once. Damon, it turned out, was perfectly cast as Jason Bourne, the man who’d lost most of his memories, but none of the skills he’d been taught so expensively. Doug Liman, best known for “Swingers,” proved to be the right man to direct the intricate, fast-paced movie. It was a hit world-wide and produced two sequels of almost the same quality—some say they’re even better than “Identity.”
Liman directed from a tight, well-plotted script by Tony Gilroy and W. Blake Herron; it’s so involving that it’s easy to watch several times. This well-produced high-definition DVD presents the film in splendid form, and it’s loaded with extras as well. It’s one of the best packages in high definition so far—a very good movie in excellent shape with interesting added material.
The opening sequence is almost hypnotic. An Italian fishing boat discovers a man floating far out at sea in the Mediterranean, lost and alone on a stormy night. He’s given care as good as possible under the circumstances, but when he awakes, he’s forgotten his past. He doesn’t remember his name, why he was out there in the sea, what he does, where he’s from. To his surprise, he discovers he’s fluent in several languages. A small device is found under his skin that projects a Swiss bank account number.
Once ashore, he heads for Switzerland. He was given money by the kind captain of the fishing boat, but he’s out of funds now, and resorts to sleeping in the park. When he’s rousted by a pair of cops, without choosing to he switches to combat mode, disarms them both, knocks one unconscious and takes the other’s gun. Stunned, shocked by what he’s done—and by the skills he shows—he makes his escape.
The story begins cutting between this guy, who learns his name is Jason Bourne, and a CIA group back in the United States. We soon learn Bourne was part of a covert operation known as Treadstone, run by Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) under the direction of Ward Abbott (Brian Cox). Both are certain Bourne is likely to expose their covert—and illegal—operation, and so put measures in action intended to dispose of him. Among those sent after him is a music teacher (Clive Owen) whose name we never know, but who seems as adept as Bourne.
Who, meanwhile, has accessed that Swiss account and found a bushel of money in many currencies, a handful of passports, also from many countries, all of which feature his photo but each of which has a different name. And there’s a gun, too. Complications ensue, and Bourne has to flee.
In all three Bourne movies, one of the most interesting aspects is how he can instantly access survival skills; he’s an extremely fast thinker, but he never rushes, never outpaces himself. He’s always calm, always in control—even if he has no idea yet how he got these skills, and what he was intended to use them for.
He hooks up with Maria Kreutz (Franka Potente), fluent in English, mostly because she has a Mini Cooper and the ability to drive to Paris—that bank safe deposit box also revealed he had a Parisian address. She’s swept into the events, and she and Bourne grow attracted to one another.
The movie flows swiftly and steadily, and Bourne begins regaining fragments of memory. We learn before he does that he’s somehow connected to shrewd African politician/power figure Nykwana Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). But assassins are on Bourne’s trail.
By the end of the film, Bourne does learn enough about his past to know he wants a very different future. Conklin describes him as a “malfunctioning thirty million dollar weapon,” but Bourne wants to put himself on the shelf, to get away from the world of international espionage. Tension builds as that music teacher closes in on him.
Most of “The Bourne Identity” takes place in Europe—all over Europe—in the winter; the cinematography by Owen Wood is crisp, detailed and monotone—it’s anything but a beautiful movie. But it’s a very handsome one, and is extremely well-presented in this high definition DVD. Details are important in Bourne’s world, and they’re important in how we see his world—the tiny click of a gun sight being focused, the thin stalks of tall winter grass, the rocks on a distant hillside, the fragments of shattered windows. This DVD presents them all in almost palpable clarity, but Liman never lets his movie be bogged down in visual or plot details. Like Bourne, the story keeps moving steadily forward; it’s as quick and determined as its subject.
The many supplements reveal, somewhat surprisingly, that despite its map-hopping plot, “The Bourne Identity” was not an expensive film. It was produced by experienced Frank Marshall, a long-time Spielberg associate who knows how to stretch a dollar (or a franc or a deutschmark). When a decision was made to change the opening and closing sequences, Marshall found a way to do it. Near the end, there’s a terse, brutal fight on a staircase in a Parisian apartment building—and it’s a stunner to learn there WAS no staircase. All that was built was the upper landing; everything else was computer graphics.
The commentary track by Doug Liman is mostly standard, with few major surprises. He identifies which sequences were on stages, which on location, and frequently praises the casting directors he used. He’s also full of compliments for stunt coordinator Nick Powell, which is hardly surprising, considering how well the stunt sequences are handled. Liman becomes more adept and interesting as the commentary track continues, making it puzzling that he was not involved in the two Bourne sequels. (Instead, he made “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”) There is another puzzle: he talks about the cast from time to time, but never—ever—says a word about Clive Owen.
The various featurettes are unexceptional but interesting. Three of them are devoted to the career of the late Robert Ludlum, each keyed by title to one of the Bourne films, so some of this material is quite new. There are some surprising interviewees, such as actor James Karen, who knew Ludlum back when both of them were young actors at large in New York. Others who talk about Ludlum include his agent Henry Morrison, as well as Jeffrey Weiner, Eric Van Lustbader (who continued the Bourne novels after Ludlum’s death), Martin Greenberg, Frank Marshall, and finally, Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, the director of the second two Bourne movies. Liman amusingly describes Ludlum’s books as being among those “bumpy-covered novels” you buy at airports as you’re boarding a flight.
As usual, it’s obvious why the deleted scenes were removed—they generally include material explained or depicted better in other scenes. But there’s a longer scene at a farmhouse, in which we see that Bourne is interested in and protective of children, which helps in explaining why what led to his amnesia happened in the first place.
There’s also a very standard “making of” documentary of relatively little interest, and “The Bourne Mastermind,” yet another featurette on Ludlum that duplicates some material from the first three. There’s a little here about the other two Bourne movies, but virtually no mention of “The Bourne Identity” miniseries, and not a single word that Richard Chamberlain played Bourne in that production.
“The Bourne Identity” is a satisfying, entertaining and intelligent action film, with a strong personal story (which the next two lacked, but this is not a weakness). This high definition DVD is an ideal way to own this movie.