- Deviation #1: There is no Moment of Humanity. This is odd, because the character is intensely likable, right from the start, but I couldn't find any one “I like this guy” moment until at least a half-hour in. Instead, our hero is the ultimate everyman: he might as well be our video game avatar, he literally knows nothing we don’t know about who he is or where he is. He’s not charming or funny, or even very odd. He’s just believably devastated and freaked out.
- The Problem: Paradoxically, this sort of total audience identification is usually off-putting. We want to bond by getting to know a hero, piecing him together from dozens of personal details and idiosyncratic behaviors. We won’t recognize most of those details from our own lives, but, to the degree that they create a convincing whole, we will appreciate the intimacy that comes from seeing a realistic person in person in full, both publicly and privately.
- Does the Movie Get Away With It? Yes, but it’s a huge cheat: they cast a preternaturally charming actor. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy was baffled and dispirited when he found out that they intended to cast Matt Damon, a baby-faced young star who had never made an action movie, but then he was glad to be totally proven wrong: Only an actor with Damon’s talent for guileless charm could have carried us through the opening third of the movie, until Bourne’s personal qualities begin to re-assert themselves, and he finally re-gains a bit of his metaphor family in the truckstop scene (“I come in here and the first thing I’m doing is catching the sightlines…I can tell you that the waitress is left-handed and the guy at the counter weighs two-hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself.”) At that point we begin to see that there’s a compelling person lurking underneath the blank persona.
At one point, Bourne is trying to get out of the embassy and runs around a corner, then comes back and yanks an evacuation plan off the wall so that he’ll have a map. That can be as thrilling to watch as the punching, and Liman makes it clear how important moments like that were to him in building the character. At the very least, Bourne’s abilities fascinate us so much that we’re willing to wait for bits of his actual personality to start re-emerging in the truckstop scene.