Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:03 pm 
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'The Bourne Identity' is good dirty fun; it isn't mindless, either

A certain well-known American movie critic has said 'Bourne Identity,' Doug Liman's entry in the big budget spy film world, is 'unnecessary.' 'Unnecessary'? I think it's very necessary to have a good crisply made action movie with cool romantic locations, a tough, inscrutable hero, a durable female sidekick, and a bang-up conclusion. We need good entertainment that pretends to be no more. What a relief 'Bourne Identity' is after the laborious disappointments of 'Minority Report'!

Bear in mind, though, that the same thing has been done before in a TV miniseries version of Robert Ludlum's 1980 novel made in 1988 and starring Richard Chamberlain. And bear in mind that the novel is 22 years old. And the depiction of the CIA as invincible and potently evil is laughable post-9/11.

I guess you have to go back a while to find fun these days.

Matt Damon comes through beautifully in this movie. He has a tautness and an edge of insecurity that are more than skin deep and the physicality to do his own stunts. He wasn't quite right to play Tom Ripley, but that wasn't his fault. Here stripped of identity he does fine. I tend to think of him as best cast as a bellhop, but he's earned a second chance. There's a chemistry between him and Franka Potente that isn't hurt at all by Bourne's coolness toward Marie. Chris Cooper as the CIA headman is a stereotype but Brian Cox as his boss has a sphinxlike vulnerability - it helped a lot that I knew him best as the charming creep in 'L.I.E.' All the bit parts are well played here. The CIA sequences are overblown and silly, but they keep the energy and excitement high, and their occasional shrillness is counteracted by the intimacy and edge of fear in all Damon's scenes with Potente. I love the minimalist dialogue between Jason and Marie. The Stoic ideal is not dead.

As many car chases as we've seen in our lives, this one through Paris in an Austin Mini-Cooper beats all for clarity, neatness, and speed. The choice of the tiny but ultra-maneuverable British car was brilliant because this is a vehicle that really can get between the cracks. Here as elsewhere the humor is subtle and not broadcast in our faces.

I wish Liman had stopped jiggling his camera so much. Even when Marie's reading a paper, the camera shakes like a man with palsy. So her French sucks; she isn't 85. But these quibbles subside as the action surges forward.

Is this a meaningless story? Hardly. The mystery of identity is one of the eternal questions of philosophy. Here it's just played for fun, but it still can make you think. According to the old Latin rule dulce et utile, the sweetness makes it useful, i.e., this movie instructs while it delights.

June 25, 2002

┬ęChris Knipp 2002

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