The Bourne Identity

Matt Damon in ``The Bourne Identity''... gripping presentation.

Matt Damon in ``The Bourne Identity''... gripping presentation.  

THE STORY'S central question is, who is this man? He has a capsule hidden in his hip and in a neat little effect, beams out the numbers of a secret bank account in Zurich. And when he does go there, this man, presumed dead, finds wads of money — of different currencies, several passports sporting different identities and a gun! Which identity, if any, is the real one? Is he a spy? An assassin? A terrorist or a plain killer?

In a racy, truly stylish genre of filmmaking, Robert Ludlum's popular book, "Bourne Identity", finds visual life in this Universal Pictures venture.

Coming as it does smothered in the mire of several big budget films, you could have very easily missed it considering the lukewarm promos.

If John Le Carre wrote spy-based books for the mind, Ludlum aims for the gut. His heavily described prose of intricate conspiracy scenarios — definitely gripping — have been put to good use by Doug Liman and gives audiences a complicated and sophisticated joy ride into the world of espionage and cold killings.

While the book is a more detailed account of an amnesia-afflicted man on the run, the film is taut and intensely focused. The director manages to cut every bit of fat to make each scene essential to the plot.

The story is not really outdated, even if the book came out long ago when the Cold War was at its peak. It's not exactly implausible that CIA would hire assassins to eliminate political adversaries, even if it is illegal under international law — they have to declare war on them first. It's not very different from trying to get at someone like Osama bin Laden.

The film opens on a stormy note with the unconscious Matt Damon floating on the Mediterranean Sea, a few miles away from Marseilles. He is pulled out by some rough fisher folk and one of them manages to get the bullets out of his back and brings him back to consciousness. But he cannot remember a thing.

Once off the boat, he discovers that he is dangerously proficient in martial arts, able to speak several European languages, can disable cops with ease and has a memory that can register number plates in a jiffy. Plus, he is being hounded and there are constant attempts on his life. However, we learn that he is Jason Bourne, a CIA agent, a top-of-the-shelf assassin whose failure in a mission called Treadstone — which centres on an embarrassingly failed assassination attempt of an African leader Wombosi — makes his boss Ted Conklin, (Chris Cooper) and his minions want him dead. Obviously to cover up for their lack of success in the mission!

With no idea why everyone is chasing him, Jason makes an accidental connection with Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente of ``Run Lola Run") a beautiful, wandering spirit, who has lived all over Europe. Initially horrified at this crazy life she has just agreed to, she turns out to be a kindred soul in the making. It's not often that the romance angle in spy films is more than functional. But here the relationship seems full of promise.

The two have a rapport that is tentative and instinctive, lost and yet at home. This is perhaps a small thing, but vital to the mood of the film. She has an earthy beauty, which also suggests European and seeps in with the rest of the ambience. Marie agrees to ferry Jason to Paris for a fee and there, circumstances keep them together as he attempts to survive the persistent attempts on his life and try to piece together what exactly his life consists of.

The film has all the ingredients for that edge of the seat experience — trains speeding through snow filled tunnels, cloak and dagger games at Paris, topped by a fabulous car chase, an impressive confrontation of spies at the French country side — all done with finesse, setting it apart from many films of this nature. The use of dramatic pauses before unexpected bursts of activity, the method of shooting and editing, makes you feel the peril and speed.

Damon as Jason is boyish, but believable. One of the offbeat aspects of the film is watching him discover his various skills — its very natural. Franka as Marie is dazzling in her simplicity. As the vagabond, she's quite the unconventional beauty who makes valid observations and is the emotional foil for the agent's unflappable personality.

Getting its impetus from a well-constructed screenplay (Tony Gilroy, William Blake Herron) and some unobtrusive camera work (Oliver Wood), the film is exciting. Even though there is no mega stunt work— it neither patronises nor plays dumb, which is what makes it so watchable.


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