Welcome to the obsessive world of crossword puzzling. If you’re a crossword aficionado you already know who Will Shortz and Merl Reagle are. If not they are respectively the editor and one of the top creators of crosswords for the New York Times and in this film you get to find out what makes them tick. If you’re a puzzle fan--and maybe even if you’re not--this is a fun peek at one of the country’s most popular hobbies. The Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle is the gold standard of crosswords and to crack it on your own in one sitting is a feat anyone can be proud of. It’s a kick to see such famous puzzlers as Daily Show host Jon Stewart and former President Bill Clinton talk about why they enjoy the challenge of a good puzzle and to see them as well as the Indigo Girls and documentarian Ken Burns sit down and crack the same puzzle. We also meet regular joes who take part in the annual crossword puzzle competition in Connecticut from the returning champs to a 20-year-old challenger who would set a new record if he proves the fastest puzzler. You get remarkably caught up in the contestants’ lives--and marvel how they can solve so swiftly without even the aid of a single reference book. The direction is completely no-frills but the story and its participants are compelling enough to keep your interest.
The crew of an Italian fishing boat finds the body of a man floating in the Mediterranean Sea and discovers he has two bullets lodged in his back and a microfilm implanted in his hip marked with the number of a Swiss bank account. Once he comes to he has no idea who he is or what happened to him but realizes he possesses extraordinary abilities and can speak several languages. The safe deposit box in Zurich holds a good sum of cash and several passports but most importantly a name: Jason Bourne. With his identity in tow Bourne (played by Matt Damon) finds his home address in Paris but soon realizes he's being tracked by someone who wants him dead. He offers German-born student Marie (Franka Potente) $10 000 to drive him to Paris but the two suddenly find themselves on the run from police the government and trained assassins. The Bourne Identity is a thrilling action pic that works on every level: the story is suspenseful and intense the cinematography is stunning and the acting above par.
It's good to see Damon who was phenomenal in The Talented Mr. Ripley in an edgy role once again. Not remembering his dark past Bourne is basically a good guy who just wants to wipe the slate clean and Damon is great at playing up his character's duality and perplexity ("Who has a bank account in their hip?" a dumbfounded Bourne asks Marie). Potente (Run Lola Run) was well cast in the role of Marie a gypsy-like loner who isn't afraid of a challenge but is smart enough to know when to quit. The two have chemistry on screen in a story line that is sweet without going overboard on sentiment. Two of the villains if you can label the CIA as such are played by Chris Cooper (The Patriot) and Brian Cox (L.I.E.). Both actors are chillingly creepy in their portrayal of cold and calculating government officials and constantly leave you guessing at what their true intentions really are. Julia Stiles (O) has a surprisingly small role as Nicolette a spiffy young American who tracks Bourne's every move in Europe.
The Bourne Identity is the first in a trilogy of films featuring Jason Bourne the main character in three best-selling novels by Robert Ludlum who died shortly after this movie's completion. Tony Gilroy (Proof of Life) adapted the novel which was published at the height of the Cold War in 1984 into a more modern and updated screenplay. Filmed on location in Prague Paris Italy and Greece the film has some stunning visuals from exotic shorelines to tight cobblestone alleyways. One of the film's most exciting scenes is a car chase through the streets of Paris as Damon at the wheel of a Mini knocks down pedestrians and drives down flights of stairs with skills that would make World Rally Champion Tommi Makinen blush. Director Doug Liman (Go) sustains the action and suspense evenly throughout the film with a story line that never lags. In fact a couple of scenes will practically have you jumping out of your seat.