"The Bourne Identity" feels as if it has been written by a few different writers who left their own mark upon the film, but didn't bother to see if they could improve other weaknesses. A troubled production that went over budget and over schedule, the film was originally supposed to be released late last Winter, but was bumped up to Summer. Reportedly, there were a few different endings filmed and additional debate between director Doug Liman and the studio.
Thankfully, the troubles (at least most of them) seem to have been worked out, as "The Bourne Identity" is a flashy and entertaining thriller that while not flawless, is one of the more enjoyable features I've seen in the past few months. The film stars Matt Damon (an unlikely action hero if there ever was one, but surprisingly very good) as Jason Bourne, a CIA assassin who, as the movie opens, is found floating in the middle of the ocean with two gunshot wounds. Picked up by a fishing boat, Bourne doesn't remember who he is or how he got there, but his reflexes and abilities suggest something fierce.
Eventually, Bourne realizes that someone - namely his boss, CIA officer Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper), who wants to, without giving away much detail, clean up a mess that Bourne was involved in. Bourne meets up with Marie (Franka Potente of "Run Lola Run") and offers her 20,000 dollars to drive him to what appears to be his Paris apartment. That's the set-up - and credited writers Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron (based on the novel by Robert Ludlum) provide enough character detail to stay interested and enough solid action sequences - including a wonderfully filmed car chase - to keep suspense high.
I previously mentioned feeling as if a few different writers took a swing at the film's screenplay. I very much enjoyed the dialogue between Damon's Bourne and Potente's Marie; they have great chemistry together and even a few very funny moments. However, as good an actor as Chris Cooper is, his agent Conklin really is the most embarassing element of the screenplay. Walking around in a small set and yelling stock government agent lines (usually something similar to, "I want him here five minutes ago!") for most of the film, I desperately wanted the movie to return to the two leads whenever Cooper's character or other government sequences started up.
Director Liman has also served as the cinematographer on his other two productions, "Swingers" and "Go". His camera work was often terrific, launching the viewer into the middle of the sequence with a "you-are-there" feel and good handheld work. Understandably, Universal probably wasn't keen on a formerly independent director also doing the cinematography on a 60 million dollar feature. For "Bourne", cinematographer Oliver Wood ("u-571") does equally fine work, often bringing that same "you-are-there" feel to this larger production. Rather than slick shots from a distance, "Bourne"'s street-level cinematography effectively captures the film's feeling that Bourne's persuers could come from behind any corner at any moment. When not returning to the government scenes, the film gains a remarkable amount of tension - while I wasn't on the edge of my seat, I was still often leaning forward and very involved.
I'm sure that this film does not stay faithful to the book (reportedly, the film takes only some basic threads and goes from there, but I'm not sure, as I never read it), but I really found it very entertaining on its own. Liman's "Go" remains one of my favorite pictures from the past few years and the director has successfully brought the fast-paced, exciting feel of that film to this big-budget feature.