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Script Review: THE BOURNE IDENTITY by Tony Gilroy (Draft date: 5/18/2000)
Reviewed by Darwin Mayflower



NOTE: The screenplays we review are often in development and may experience many rewrites, some could end up being completely different than what is reviewed here. It is our hope that our reviews generate more interest in the film. Thank you.

Tony Gilroys style as a screenwriter is derived directly from William Goldmans. And thats alright. Because it works. He steals every comma, dash and underline from the venerable Goldman. Its a good thing, too, because Tony Gilroy knows how to work it and its mostly because of his style (or should I say William Goldmans?) that this script is as painless as it is.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY is a spy thriller for the new millennium. Which means theres lots of car chases and action scenes and blah, blah, blah. The moments of raw intelligence are replaced by plasma on the lens.

The story is a simple one: a man is found floating, shot and stabbed, near death, in the ocean. When he awakes he can remember nothing. But he must have been an important man: he speaks four different languages and microfilm was inserted in his flesh. With some money given to him by the ships doctor he sets out for a Zurich bank (the film had an account number on it). Inside his safety deposit box he finds passports, money, a gun. And learns his identity: Jason Bourne. Jason has amnesia (a cheap but effective trick) and, as we watch him zoom around Europe, is trying to figure out who he is, what he was doing, why someone tried to kill him, and, more important, why he is so consequential that everywhere he goes a group of men try to capture him.

You see, when Jason is in the American consulate his passport sets off a DETAIN alarm and hes chased by the entire security force. Only narrowly escaping when he climbs down the buildings exterior and takes off. And when Jason goes home to his apartment in Italy theres a man hanging -- hiya, mate -- inside his airduct. They shoot it out and Jason narrowly escapes -- having to battle the trained killer in a deadly crossfire of bullets. When he leaves said apartment hes pursued by Italian cops. And he narrowly escapes -- having to perform amazing car-driving skills through cramped alleyways. And when Jason hides out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere yet another group comes after him and he narrowly escapes by...You get the point here.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY is an ironic title for this script because Jason Bourne has no identity. None that we can glimpse, anyway. The script is all action and no character and were left with, basically, a bunch of chaotic scenes where a lot of people shoot at each other and Bourne is asking anyone he can, Why the hell are they doing this to me?

After he climbs down the consulate building Jason hooks up with an expat American named Marie. Shes a green-haired motormouth who tools around in a little red car. Shes about to be kicked out of the country and shes not too happy about it. Marie is written as a careless, "animated" American and she is dreadfully annoying. Marie literally never shuts up. She goes on and on about her boring life -- how Jason will probably hurt her -- then how Jason betrayed her -- then how much she loves Jason -- and then...Well, once again -- you get the point here. Maries only distinction is that shes the single most annoying character in a movie since Jar Jar Binks.

Tony Gilroy sure has a fun time with the material here. And I actually like reading his prose. It moves so fast it sweeps you up before you realize how dumb what youre reading is. But for it to come close to working someone is going to have to beef up the character development and hammer out where the story goes after its opening setup. Its too bare-bones thin to warrant the time of an audience.

Doug Liman (SWINGERS, GO) is making this movie. His first huge studio project. Matt Damon, the apple-cheeked towhead, who recently dropped the back-to-back bombs LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE and ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, is Jason Bourne. Franka Potente, from RUN LOLA RUN, will play the vexing Marie.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY was the first in a series of books about Jason Bourne from novelist Robert Ludlum. The idea behind this film was to start a movie franchise along the lines of JAMES BOND.

The idea of a newer, more aware JAMES BOND sure whets my appetite. But youll have to give me more than empty action scenes Scotch-taped together and a non-charming, monosyllabic hero.

I dont read Robert Ludlum. Hes supposedly a beloved mystery writer. From what a writing professor tells me hes a talented author, but his books suffer from what this script does: theres a lot of easy answers with explosions and cars slamming into one another.

THE BOURNE IDENTITYs plot is sort of shamelessly hokey and I got into its groove. The unblushingly near-comical idea of a superspy waking up with amnesia and piecing together who he is is irresistible. As it turns out Jason was part of an upper-echelon bevy of assassins who got the job to take out a loudmouth ex-dictator. Jason blew the gig because he, for once, had a conscience and as he slowly remembers who he was he regrets his past acts and hopes -- simply hopes -- that he can restart his life and begin afresh: new location, new surroundings, clean living.

That could make a nice story, I guess, in the hands of a better writer. But Gilroy both exploits Jasons emotions and fears them. Whenever Marie and Jason have a non-screaming conversation Gilroy quickly cuts it off with some bang-bang action (or has the kung-fu-bad-ass Jason pop a guys arm out of its socket like he was tugging on rope).

I read David Self (THIRTEEN DAYS) rewrote Gilroys adaptation. And thats a good thing. I think Self (whose THIRTEEN DAYS script was so good it got him into Steven Spielbergs office) is better suited to dealing with the characters and their reaction-to-the-extraordinary emotions.

The final product should be interesting, to say the least. I think of Doug Limans fondness for the handheld camera and I get ill imaging his version of an action scene. But to be fair I said the same thing about David O. Russell and he turned around and made not only the best action film in years -- THREE KINGS -- but created a whole new way of making action films.

Maybe having Matt Damon not talk and just show his ripped abs makes sense. At least here he wont be competing with the cinematography.

THE BOURNE IDENTITY was probably the fastest 137-page script Ive ever read. Thanks to Mr. Gilroy (who has a great script in him somewhere). But its too flimsy and broke its own back eventually.

Super-rich, super-suave, super-crafty spies are fun, and so are the adventures they get into. So maybe this movie will work out and well get a really good spy flick -- say, THE BOURNE CRISIS -- and that James Bond for the young-set prophecy this movie has attached to it will come true.

Should it happen, I do hope for one thing: Marie, with her chattering, rambling, salt-in-a-wound personality, doesnt make it into the sequel.

-- Darwin Mayflower.

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