Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Bourne Identity


The plaster swaddling the lower half of my body, as I recover from injuries received from an exploding zamboni machine, is starting to itch. I have also become somewhat bored at being confined to the upper floor of Chateau Maine. I am able to wheel myself out onto the balcony and have been chatting with all my well-wishers on the phone, but I'm usually such a girl on the go, that I'm feeling momentarily very trapped. I can get out occasionally; my driver has obtained a construction crane that can pluck me off the balcony terrace and lower me onto a flat bed truck so I can keep the occasional orthopedist appointment.

I am using some of the down time to update my fine lines of quality consumer products. GlamourPuss gowns, haut couture based on the costumes from Cats remain strong sellers, but there's been a marked drop off in sales for VickiWear, my lower priced line inspired by other classic musicals. We're going to reinvigorate it by introducing Brigadoon plaids and Hello, Dolly! wait staff uniforms. I'm also adding a third major line, Vicki's Secret quality lingerie. Our first offering will be a self designed exclusive, the Thinga Thong, musical underwear programmable with 64 different show tunes.

After my last orthopedist appointment, I had the flatbed driven to the local drive-in where, from my wheel chair perch, I was able to see over the minivans and Camaros and I caught the new Matt Damon film, The Bourne Identity, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum. The story was filmed once before, badly, in a 1988 television actioner starring Richard Chamberlin and Jaclyn Smith. This time around, acclaimed independent film director Doug Liman (Swingers, Go) took his first foray into traditional Hollywood genre film making.

The film stars Matt Damon as the mysterious Jason Bourne; as the film opens, he's found floating in the middle of the Mediterranean sea with two bullets in his back, a laser pointer containing a Swiss bank account number implanted in his hip, and a bad case of amnesia. He has no idea who he is, how he came to be there or his role in life; one senses it's rather extraordinary when, in short order, he shows a remarkable facility with languages, fire arms, self defense, and dramatic escapes. After landing in Marseilles, he makes his way to Switzerland where the mysterious account contains multiple identity papers, a good deal of cash and a pistol. Pretty soon, the CIA is chasing him and he hooks up with a young drifter, Marie (Franka Potente) who takes him to Paris. Once there, they're rapidly on the run from mysterious assassins, CIA operatives (dispatched by the malevolent Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper)), and partaking in car chases and gun battles. As the story progresses and Bourne learns more about his true identity, he must learn to accept his past, if not necessarily embrace and return to it, and he must make choices about how he will conduct himself in the future.

How he resolves these choices makes this a much more intelligent film than the standard Hollywood actioner and is obviously what drew Liman to the material. He's dealing with the idea that a fully developed man, highly specialized in negative ways, must be reborn and then examine his past choices and use his new knowledge to make different and better choices. All this is played out on a thriller frame work. Most directors would have sped quickly through the storyline, saving their energy for elaborate action set pieces. Liman does not. He's much more interested in the character development and the most interesting sequences in the film are conversations and quiet moments. The action is used more as punctuation rather than as a raison d'ĂȘtre.

The film is well thought out and carefully constructed, until the final twenty minutes. The last act, although integrated into the film, feels like an add-on, which it actually is. A different ending, one more dependent on action, and less on character was partially shot. Another ending, in which the final confrontation between Bourne and Conklin was more cerebral than physical was also jettisoned after it tested badly, leading to reshoots and the ending currently in place. I think there's a certain tension between Liman's character driven indie roots and the needs of a big budget Hollywood genre picture that didn't quite get resolved in pre-production which mars the film's final stretch a bit. The problem is not enough, however, to deflate the film entirely, as it might have been in the hands of a lesser filmmaker.

Novelist Ludlum has been a popular writer of thrillers for nearly forty years. His works, despite their strong action plots and cinematic scope, however, have rarely been successfully adapted to the screen. This is probably due to the weakness of his characterization, especially of his female characters. Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron, who worked successively on the screenplay, needed to take major liberties with Ludlum in order to create stronger leads and motivations than originally existed and their work is clear and consistent.

Matt Damon, with his thin build and boyish face, is not the usual type tapped for the lead in a studio action film. His physique has been buffed up courtesy of Nautilus but, more importantly, he's a good enough actor to give a convincing portrayal of Bourne's transformations. Most action stars might have done the stunts better, but would have made a hash of the subtle acting required by Liman's vision. He's well matched by Franka Potente as Marie, first an acquaintance, later his friend and ultimately his lover. She finds the delicate balance between anomie and emotion that the character requires and is always interesting to watch when she's on screen. Chris Cooper, together with Brian Cox who plays his superior, gives another stand out supporting performance.

The wintry scenes of European locales, all grays and blues, compliment the tone of the film. The key scene of the film takes place in an isolated French farmhouse where bare woods, snow and dried grasses come together in a Monet landscape from hell, lovingly photographed and a perfect visual juxtaposition for our hero's mindset.

This is an intelligent, fairly well crafted film with good performances and an emphasis on character over action. Needless to say, it's likely to get steamrollered by Scooby Doo. This one is a better use of your matinee admission dollar.

Red bank bag. Nasty African dictator. Treacherous bank employee. Gratuitous Julia Stiles. Hidden camera photos. Suicidal assassin. Exploding gas tank. Pont Neuf meeting. Gratuitous staircase swan dive.

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