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Damon brings life to dark ‘Bourne Identity’

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He is Jason Bourne, John Michael Kane and a score of other names, but throughout “The Bourne Identity,” Matt Damon’s character has no identity, a factor that makes the movie interesting and gives this espionage thriller an edge.

In “The Bourne Identity,” Damon awakes from an amnesiac’s sleep to find himself on a fishing boat near Marseilles, his only possessions a laser-pointer-like instrument telling his bank account in Zurich, two bullet holes in his back and the abilities of a CIA assassin.

With the help of his Zurich-stationed bank box, Damon learns his name is Jason Bourne and that he is a resident of Paris. Digging a little deeper, however, the newly named Bourne finds another passport proclaiming him to be John Michael Kane, and another that he is a resident of Brazil and still more so that he has many names and countries to go with his one face.

Oddly, Damon’s character fails to notice that he’s not French though his American accent is most noticeable when he speaks French or German. But maybe that’s not the first thing crossing the mind of an amnesiac with a bank box full of foreign currency, 16 different passports and a hefty gun or two. At any rate, Damon assumes the Bourne identity and makes his way for Paris sans gun with the help of some $20,000 and a Swiss woman with a car in need of dough named Marie (Franka Potente).

Throughout the film, Bourne and Marie must survive the constant attacks on their lives by Bourne’s fellow CIA assassins who want him dead for the mess he caused when he failed to kill an African warlord who exposed the CIA and its unethical assassins. None of this Bourne remembers, and all the while, they don’t know why they are hunted. The result is an exciting game of cat and mouse in which Damon, though he’s no James Bond in terms of his heroism, is rival to Bond all the same with his intelligence and ingenuity.

In one respect, “The Bourne Identity” is a fantasy, a story about a man who didn’t start out like we are and who will never by able to become as we are. In another fashion, Jason Bourne is so much like us, that we watch him and are watching ourselves.

Though it left him without name or country, Bourne’s amnesia left him his animal instincts: desire to live, fear, sexuality and sense of community.

When approached by his fisherman savior who observes, “You see, it’s all coming back,” Bourne responds angrily, reminiscent of a resentful and frightened schoolboy contrasting to his protective attitude around Marie.

The Bourne/Marie relationship is perhaps what keeps this film, which would be just another espionage thriller without it, going. The two are frightened of their pursuers and of each other, but without Marie, Jason Bourne is simply a machine that ticks off rather awesome karate moves, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but nonetheless, not as interesting. With Marie, Jason Bourne is shown to be a flawed man who wants to turn his back on the identity slowly being revealed to him.

Devoted readers of the Bourne trilogy by Robert Ludlum may have groaned at the thought of pretty boy Damon playing their favorite anti-hero, but their fears were unfounded. It takes each successive Matt Damon movie to remind us that there’s more to Damon than looks, which is a shame, because he’s a good actor especially in his darker roles such as the title character in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” In fact, there’s a lot of Ripley in Bourne.

Neither film is cheerful, but both have a laugh or two. Neither film is gaudy with gore, but the gratuitous violence plays a necessary role and of course, Damon’s character is dark, but to an extent, sympathetic.

“The Bourne Identity” surpasses most thrillers in being non-confrontational.The screenwriters resisted the lame oneliners to good effect, and so the film doesn’t beg our attention, it commands it quietly, and many will be happy to comply.

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Damon brings life to dark ‘Bourne Identity’