Bourne Identity gives new twist to spy thriller genre

Hollywood always tries to make things difficult. Why can’t a spy thriller just be simple? All that is needed is the agent, the bad guy, the gadgets and the girl. Create a simple story, a heroic lead and a nasty evildoer. Make the audience believe they’re watching a real story about a real agent. Now those tired of the legend of 007 have a better option. His name is Bourne. Jason Bourne.

Based on the famous 1980s Cold War thriller by Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity begins when Bourne (Matt Damon) is found floating in the Mediterranean Sea, almost dead and with no memory of who he is or what has happened. His only hope of regaining his memory is a strange device sewn into his skin. This includes the code for a Swiss bank account deposit box. Finding different passports and identities, he soon hooks up with Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente), a young German staying in Paris. When the CIA begins to close in and wants him dead or alive, Bourne must race against the clock to unravel the mystery of just who he is and why he’s the world’s most wanted man.

But the most surprising move Hollywood made was casting Damon as Bourne. It’s hard to call Damon (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Good Will Hunting) a bad actor, but it’s hard to picture him as the lead in a spy thriller. He’s also well-matched against Potente, who holds her own in a rather thankless role (especially since her motivation for staying with Bourne amid potential death and destruction strains credibility). The supporting cast led by Chris Cooper, Brian Cox and Clive Owen is also strong, and the foreign locales are attractive but not overblown as they were in xXx.

The Bourne Identity is a fast-paced, highly enjoyable thriller and a nice antidote to the seemingly predictable spy thriller genre. If future installments are as well-made, well-acted and as tightly-wound as this one, then for once the idea of a sequel is good news indeed.

Befitting this film’s surprising $100 million-plus domestic box office haul, Universal has given The Bourne Identity the full special edition treatment. In a nice touch, Universal has begun to subtitle all the video-based supplemental material in both English and French.

One of the features is the new screen-specific audio commentary by director Doug Liman. The film’s challenges were many: using popular property for his first big-budget studio film, working with a cast whose command of English was often poor. This is quite a fact-packed track and any fan of the film or Liman should definitely not miss it.

The only disappointment on this disc is the formulaic 14-minute featurette, The Birth of The Bourne Identity. It’s slick but nothing special, with usual cast and crew interviews plus an interview with executive producer Frank Marshall. More interesting are the eight minutes of deleted scenes (four scenes in all) and the film’s alternate ending. Fortunately it’s an alternate, as it is far more syrupy and not nearly as good as the one included in the movie. There is also a one-minute extended farmhouse sequence, which for some reason is given a slot of its own on the menu, but is not particularly thrilling.

Rounding out the extras is a gaggle of promotional items. There’s the film’s obligatory music video, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, some fairly lengthy production notes on the trip from novel to screen, standard cast and crew filmographies and the film’s original theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen.

The Bourne Identity is not deep but streamlined, slick and simple. It’s just fun. Universal has put together a fine disc, with Dolby Digital and DTS compatible soundtracks and nice supplements, especially the commentary. The DVD is worth picking up, and certainly a must-rent.

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