The Bourne Identity (Special Edition) Review

"I just left the Hotel Amnesia. I had to go there...where it is, I can't remember", is just one of the jokes on Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul, The Fall's first single for the Kamera label in 1981 and so, like narcolepsy, chronic wind and swollen testicles, it becomes a medical condition that, although serious, lends itself well to jokes. Amnesia is, of course, the basis for many a convoluted thriller in which an everyman is revealed, through the discovery of his identity, to be a most-feared secret agent, thereby avoiding having to explain how an overweight freight driver becomes a crack shot, an expert driver and a martial artist in a shade under ninety minutes.

Adapted from a novel by Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity stars Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, who, having been shot twice, is found floating in the Mediterranean with no memory either of what happened or of his identity. During treatment, a capsule is pulled from his body that displays a bank account number when activated, which leads him to a safety deposit box in a Swiss bank that contains a gun, money and papers that offer a clue to his identity. When he requests support from the American embassy in Zurich, Bourne is pursued by plain clothes security agents and begins to suspect he was once employed as a spy in a deep cover, special ops part of a government agency. Trusting no one but Maria (Potente), who Bourne offers ten thousand dollars for a lift to Paris, he travels across Europe in the hope of uncovering his identity and unraveling the conspiracy that almost cost him his life.

Regardless of the success that he had with Good Will Hunting, both as a writer and actor, Matt Damon has never looked particularly at ease in the roles that he's taken in films set inside the US. In this, as in The Talented Mr Ripley, in which he starred as Patricia Highsmith's anti-hero, Damon feels just right for the part of someone out of place in Europe. As Tom Ripley, this discomfort resulted in his assuming the life of New York boating heir Dickie Greenleaf around the cities of Italy with both murder and money on his mind whilst in this, Damon's look of confusion plays against the CIA's technology and his remembering of the job that he was trained for leave him physically, if not mentally, prepared for the assassins sent after him as he leaves Zurich for Paris.

However, the strengths of The Bourne Identity are in its frequent ordinariness - Bourne's escape from Zurich and his arrival in Paris are both subdued when considering how they might have been handled elsewhere. Between Zurich and Paris, the scenes set within Marie's car and in a roadside diner, in which Bourne begins to piece his memories together, are low-key and natural. Even the car chase through the streets of Paris, showing an influence from Ronin as Matt Damon takes a Mini Cooper the wrong way down a dual carriageway, is unspectacular, given the string of minor shunts and collisions that occur in the wake of Bourne's escape from the Parisian police. Indeed, it's not until forty-five minutes in and the first assassination attempt on Bourne's life, which precedes this car chase and the slightly later arrival of Clive Owen's Professor, that The Bourne Identity delivers on the action that one expects of it. In relaxing between slight moments of violence and action, The Bourne Identity should appeal to those who are more fond of the more gritty entrants in the Bond collection - Dr No and From Russia With Love - than the likes of Tomorrow Never Dies. Much of this is thanks to Franka Potente, who is the most natural female partner in an action movie in years and her character's relationship with Bourne puts the viewer at ease from their first meeting outside the American Embassy in Zurich. As much as Bourne is key to the plot, Marie is almost as strong a character and it's her relationship with Bourne - against Clive Owen's chilling assassin, the Professor, and Brian Cox and Chris Cooper's officious CIA directors - that gives the film a heart.

Fans of the novel will notice that screenwriter Tony Gilroy has excised parts of the plot, notably that in which Bourne recognises his actions against those of Carlos The Jackal but in trimming Robert Ludlum's book for the screen, Gilroy is largely successful. One criticism is that he is a little too obvious with his influences - notably Ronin but Enemy Of The State and Femme Fatale are also in there - but as Doug Liman confidently handles both the action and the characterisation, the first of which is more surprising given the likes of his previous films, Go and Swingers amongst them, such obvious steals are brushed over to produce a thriller that's taut, smart and as good an opening to the Bourne franchise as Universal could have wished for.

The Transfer

The Bourne Identity has been anamorphically transferred and looks as good as you might expect a recent release to. The transfer is sympathetic to the film's style and is able to handle the cold blues of the film without any noticeable faults.

Despite this being labelled a Special Edition, there is no DTS soundtrack but the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is good. Although the rear speakers are used mainly to add presence to the soundtrack, they do burst into life during the more frantic scenes in the film, particularly during the car chase in Paris, at which time the soundtrack handles the sound effects without a problem.


The full list of bonus features on this Special Edition of The Bourne Identity are as follows:

Alternate Version: Introduced by a 3m34s interview with screenwriter Tony Gilroy, producer Frank Marshall and actor Brian Cox, this explains how new opening and closing scenes were filmed in the aftermath of the events of September 11th 2001. As Frank Marshall explains, test screenings meant that the film ran fine without them but they can be viewed by selecting an onscreen icon at the relevant moments. These scenes reduce the original cut of the film to a flashback

The Bookend Scenes: This feature allows the viewer to watch the alternate opening (2m16s) and ending (4m56s) as well as the introduction without having to select an onscreen icon as the film plays. Both of these scenes are presented non-anamorphically in 2.35:1.

The Bourne Mastermind (5m45s): This short feature on Robert Ludlum, the writer of the novel of The Bourne Identity, includes both archive footage with Ludlum as well as more recent interviews with friends and his biographer.

Access Granted (4m03s): Subtitled 'An Interview With Screenwriter Tony Gilroy', this explains how Gilroy took the original Ludlum novel and picked out key scenes and characterisations to bring it to the screen. Gilroy adds very little to any expectations that you have about such a process.

From Identity To Supremacy (3m37s): Continuing the slight series of interviews, this feature allows Matt Damon and Franka Potente to explain their characters in The Bourne Identity and how they are bringing them over to The Bourne Supremacy.

The Bourne Diagnosis (3m26s): It doesn't feel as though it was necessary but psychiatrist Dr Reef Karim is on hand in this feature to explain amnesia, backed up by highlights from the film. Try as he might, however, and no matter the cheque from Universal, Dr Karim ends up wholly unconvinced about the medical diagnosis employed in The Bourne Identity.

Cloak And Dagger (5m31s): Anyone who has been following recent, post-inquiry events will doubtless smile wryly as CIA Officer Chase Brandon explains his agency's motto, "And ye shall know the truth and the truth will make you free" but, undeterred by recent events, Chase ties the CIA's worldwide activities and special operations into, unsurprisingly, The Bourne Identity.

The Speed Of Sound (4m04s): Whereas a feature on the car chase would it have been interesting had it explained the filming of it in detail, this one only touches on that, preferring to talk at length about the application of sound effects during post-production.

Declassified Information: ...or deleted scenes to you and me. Four scenes are included here - Wombosi On The Private Jet (59s), Bourne And Maria By The Side Of The Road (2m29s), Psychologist Discusses Bourne (1m46s) and Bourne And Marie Practice On The Subway (1m42s) - none of which would have added anything to the film had they been left intact. There is the option to play all and each deleted scene has been transferred non-anamorphically in 2.35:1.

Iside A Fight Sequence (4m43s): Featuring much behind-the-scenes and on-set discussions of martial arts, this features an interview with Matt Damon as well as instructions from the stunt coordinator Nick Powell on preparing for the fight scenes in the film.

Moby Extreme Ways Music Video: And here is where we get to those features that are included only to extend lists such as these and up the space used on the DVD. Moby's mix of techno and slight rock is accompanied by clips from the film and footage of Moby performing the song accompanied by himself on drums, guitar, keyboards, etc.

DVD Credits (53s): Played out as an end credits sequence, this is sure to make mothers and fathers proud but, for the rest of us, time to move on.

Van Helsing Trailer (1m03s): Kevin O'Reilly's review of the film can be read here although there is disappointingly no mention of Stephen Sommers' work on Deep Rising when they mention, "From the director of..."

Cast And Filmmakers: Biographies are available for all of the main cast and crew but not for Robert Ludlum who, presumably, had outstayed his welcome with the 5m45s feature, The Bourne Mastermind.

Unless otherwise noted, all bonus features are presented in 1.33:1.


Given that one of the bonus features mentions the return of much of the cast of this film for a sequel - The Bourne Supremacy - Universal clearly enjoyed a sufficient return on their investment to ask most of the cast to return. What's particularly welcome about this is that The Bourne Identity is a twisting, stylish thriller set in the same, post-Cold War/new monied Europe of Ronin and Femme Fatale and that it looks great. I'll readily admit a weakness for sharp European thrillers - even better if they feature a train, snow and multiple instances of sabotage, meaning that spy thriller, Avalanche Express is almost a perfect title round my way if not actually as enjoyable as the title would suggest - and although never as good as the former, nor as slippery as the latter, this suggests that, as neither led to a series of films, Bond may have a young upstart to deal with come his next outing.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:24:06

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