The Bourne Identity (12A)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Feature commentary with director Doug Liman; 'The Birth of The Bourne Identity' - behind the scenes; Alternate ending; Deleted and extended scenes; Moby 'Extreme Ways' video; Theatrical trailer; CD-ROM features.

SPIES seem to be all the rage during 2002; whether on TV or on the Big Screen, the world of espionage seldom seemed so alluring to both stars and directors.

We had Austin Powers bidding to save his father; Jack Ryan attempting to save the world in The Sum of All Fears, TV’s Spooks avoiding the chip fat fryers, Jack Bauer preventing an assassination attempt in 24 and now Matt Damon struggling to remember his identity - even before James Bond had prepared to Die Another Day in November!

But The Bourne Identity is the pick of the movie bunch so far, a hip, fast-paced, no-nonsense thriller, based on the page-turning trilogy by Robert Ludlum.

Directed by Doug (Swingers/Go) Liman, the film finds Damon’s amnesia-ridden assassin, Jason Bourne, attempting to rediscover his identity after being rescued by a fishing crew with only the bullets in his back and a Swiss Bank account embedded in his hip as clues.

Enlisting the help of Franka Potente’s reluctant love-interest, Bourne then travels across Europe in a bid to unravel the mystery before his former employers find and erase him permanently.

It’s an intriguing set-up, expertly realised by the ultra-cool Liman, which engages the viewer from start to finish without ever becoming too predictable or too complicated.

Damon, in the title role, continues to show his versatility as an actor, cutting a suitably lean figure as the deadly Bourne, having undergone months of martial arts, boxing and weapons training to prepare for the physical demands of his performance.

And while his edgy, confused spy lacks the quip-spewing charisma of a 007, or the out and out good-looks of Jack Ryan’s latest incarnation (Ben Affleck), Damon infuses his agent with an intensity that is grounded in reality, forced to operate in a world that takes no prisoners (his fight scenes, in particular, appear and sound bone-crunchingly authentic) and which offers few allies.

On his trail, meanwhile, are the likes of Chris (Lone Star) Cooper and Brian Cox’s shadowy superiors and Clive Owen’s fellow assassin; all of whom add gravitas to roles which, traditionally, lack much in the way of characterisation (Owen, in particular, is quietly efficient throughout).

On the action front, the movie also delivers, with a car chase involving a mini through the streets of Paris a particular highlight, evoking fond memories of both The Italian Job and Ronin.

The Bourne Identity was one of the sleeper hits of the year when released in America and its success could pave the way for a franchise (Ludlum constructed a trilogy around Bourne), which would certainly be welcome.

As spy thrillers go, this one hits the target.

RELATED STORIES: Click here to find out what the US reaction to the movie was..