Among Bruce Kirkland's favourite flawed heroes are (from left to right) Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity, Christian Bale in American Psycho and Natalie Portman in Black Swan.
Movie heroes are not all clear-minded like James Bond, Indiana Jones or Atticus Finch. Instead, some are dazed and confused, befuddled or brain damaged, just not at the top of their game. In good movies, that is what makes them interesting.
In honour of Jeremy Renner's role as Aaron Cross in The Bourne Legacy, which opens Friday, we look at 10 other flawed movie heroes. Each is severely challenged, usually due to uncontrollable circumstances and sometimes due to severe trauma to the head. I call this The Hangover Effect, in reference to the lovable lunatics in Todd Phillips' 2009 comedy. But my favourite flawed heroes have more problems than waking up with tattoos and tigers in Las Vegas.
THE BOURNE TRILOGY (2002/2004/2007): Renner, of course, follows Matt Damon in his three Bourne flicks, Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum. In the original, Damon's Jason Bourne wakes up wounded and clueless with amnesia on a boat. His killer reflex actions, and fragmentary clues, catapult him into startling revelations and gonzo action scenes.
MEMENTO (2000): Long before The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan meticulously crafted this extraordinary drama about a man who reads his tattoos to chronicle his life story. Famously, Nolan told the story backwards. This was perplexing but entrancing, and Guy Pearce is superb. Nolan also plays with off-kilter protagonists in Insomnia, Inception and his Batman movies.
AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000): In Canadian director Mary Harron's masterpiece, Christian Bale plays with the chasm between reality and fantasy as a Wall Street banker who is secretly bonkers. This man should never have access to a chainsaw.
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993): In an exceptionally sophisticated comedy, Bill Murray plays an arrogant TV reporter who wakes up every 24 hours to find himself living the same damned day over again. His mind whirls into madness, until he figures out how to better himself.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004): Deliberate submission to a memory-erasing procedure is risky. But Jim Carrey's achingly effective performance as love-torn Joel turns this into an American classic.
BLACK SWAN (2010): Natalie Portman won an Oscar for Darren Aronofsky's ballet drama. As confused as she is about what is real, or not, so are we. Hence our provocative pleasure. Was it all a dream-nightmare, or did it really happen?
SHUTTER ISLAND (2010): The highbrow collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio transforms a period prison thriller into a thing of mystery and beauty. Again, how much of what we see is real?
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975): Jack Nicholson plays rebellious McMurphy as certifiably nuts in this Oscar-winning drama, which is set inside an institution for the criminally insane. The brilliant twist is that erratic McMurphy is far more normal and human than infamous Nurse Ratched.
TOTAL RECALL (1990): Ignoring the mediocre 2012 remake with Colin Farrell, the original 1990 flick is effective. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in one of his best roles, plays a protagonist going on a virtual vacation to Mars. But things happen, as you would expect in a story adapted from Philip K. Dick's work.
SPELLBOUND (1945): Hitchcock heroes are often at a mental disadvantage. Or just plain crazy, like Norman Bates in Psycho. But no one is more challenged than Gregory Peck in this timeless romantic thriller. Peck plays a man assuming another's identity after being shocked into amnesia during a murder. Is Peck the killer? Spellbound is famous for its eerie nightmare sequence designed by Salvador Dali.