The Bourne Identity
Spy films tend to fall into three categories: the jingoistic, in which right-wing nerds like Jack Ryan employ high-tech penis substitutes in the struggle to rid the word of terrorism, communism, etc.; the spoofy, ranging from the suave Our Man Flint to the unabashedly puerile Austin Powers series; and the sophisticated, films that believably detail such tasks as information gathering, assassination, and double-crossing. Productions falling into the first two categories have far outweighed the third of late, which is unfortunate, as most truly great spy films--say, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold or 3 Days of the Condor--favor gritty realism over propaganda and potty humor.
The Bourne Identity is a thoroughly mediocre entry in the third category that nevertheless delivers some of the traditional pleasures of its subgenre. These include decent action sequences, picturesque European locales, and an eclectic (if wasted) supporting cast culled from recent art-house hits. We meet Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) floating half-drowned in the Mediterranean Sea with bullets in his back and a bad case of amnesia. Following a lead to a Swiss safe-deposit box, he finds several passports with his photo but different names, a gun, and oodles of cash. Bourne's reappearance causes CIA honcho Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper) to dispatch a variety of assassins (including Croupier's Clive Owen) to hunt down Bourne and his new friend Marie Kreutz (Run Lola Run's Franka Potente).
Next to gung-ho junk like Bad Company and The Sum of All Fears, The Bourne Identity looks positively shrewd. We see espionage operatives not just as pumped-up action heroes, but occasionally as believable people whose work wears away at their emotions and their morals, transforming them into stressed-out workaholics or stolid automatons. Furthermore, in this season of Hollywood films altered to include patriotic content at the (September) 11th hour, it's refreshing that the only American flags flying in this film are miniatures atop the villain's government desk. Unfortunately, none of this makes this thinly plotted Robert Ludlum adaptation a good movie, but give director Doug Liman (Swingers, Go) credit for attempting to promote entertainment above the nationalist trappings that will date this moment in Hollywood history.