First off, when I first heard that they were making a movie version of Robert Ludlum's novel, I had mixed feelings. I had read and thoroughly enjoyed the book many years ago and knew that it had been adapted into a TV movie back in 1988, with Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith, although I have to confess that I never did get around to seeing it for fairly obvious reasons.
So why the mixed feelings? Partly because, for a variety of reasons, movies rarely if ever live up to the novels on which they are based. Maybe this is because we have our own rigidly set perceptions of what the characters look like or because we are already familiar with the plot. Sometimes studios rewrite the plots of our favourite novels and the movie adaptation ends up being so dissimilar to the book that everything that was good about it has either been lost in the editing, or changed to the story's detriment.
In the case of The Bourne Identity, the novel is a pretty substantial affair, full of plots and sub-plots, which would be pretty hard to cram into a mere 2 hours, without making significant changes. The Bourne Identity's script was reportedly written and re-written countless times. It took two years to shoot and, during this time, Matt Damon completed two other movies (Ocean's Eleven and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron). With this kind of background it is almost a wonder that this film was ever completed and as a result pre-release expectations were none too high. However, against all odds, Doug Liman (Go, Swingers) has produced a slick and competent thriller.
Matt Damon stars as Jason Bourne, an amnesiac found drifting in the Mediterranean sea after being pumped full of lead and left for dead. After being rescued by a fishing boat and nursed back from to health our hero sets off from Marseille with the intention of trying to rekindle his lost memories. Along the way, much to his bemusement, he not only finds himself pursued by shadowy would-be assassins, he discovers that he has skills and instincts that suggest that he himself may also be a ruthless trained killer.
So cue some great action sequences; several impressive fight scenes and an excellent car chase through Paris and enough of the original novel's twists and turns to keep the audience interested. Plus, throw in Franka Potente as an interesting female lead and unwilling companion, Clive Owen and Brian Cox in good supporting performances and two hours slip seamlessly by. However, although detractors will point out that The Bourne Identity is probably not the most memorable movie you will ever see (true), it is also fair to say that this is good old fashioned Saturday night at the movies entertainment and definitely worth a watch if you are looking for something undemanding. Matt Damon, excellent in The Talented Mr Ripley and Good Will Hunting as a credible action hero? Now there's a pleasant surprise and with several sequels penned by the late author Robert Ludlum, we may not have yet seen the last of Mr Bourne.