THE BOURNE IDENTITY
Directed by Doug Liman
Executive Produced by Robert Ludlum
Produced by Patrick Crowley, Richard N. Gladstein and Doug Liman
Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and W. Blake Herron
Based on the novel written by Robert Ludlum
I’m convinced that television shows like “Alias” and “24’ as well as movies like the “Mission: Impossible” series and THE BOURNE IDENTITY are the reason for the recent rebooting of the James Bond franchise. Spies on television and in the movies have grown up and no longer take on world conquering supervillains with weird fetishes. No, the bad guys are more rooted in the reality of our world after 9/11 and so are the heroes. Take Jason Bourne, for instance. A killing machine of the highest order with a nearly superhuman capacity for taking punishment as well as dishing it out. Possessed of a frightening range of skills and talents, the three movies this character has appeared in have all been wildly successful, eclipsing the “Mission: Impossible” series in terms of style, story and character. Jason Bourne doesn’t rely on gadgets and witty quips to get him out of trouble. He’d rather just kill you and get it over with.
THE BOURNE IDENTITY begins with a fishing trawler finding the body of a man (Matt Damon) floating in the Mediterranean Sea. The crew hauls him aboard and the ship’s doctor finds that the man has been shot twice in the back and has an odd device planted under the skin. A device that contains the number of a Swiss bank account. When the man awakens he doesn’t remember who he is or how he got in his predicament. The man makes his way to Zurich and the bank. Waiting for him is a safe deposit box with a fortune in various currencies, a gun and a dozen passports, all with different names. He chooses the name of the first passport he picked up to use: Jason Bourne and begins his quest to find out his true identity and what happened to him.
His quest is hampered by the fact that no matter where he goes everybody is trying to kill him. Even in the United States embassy where he goes for help. The next thing he knows he’s got a squad of pissed off Marines after him. But Jason Bourne surprises even himself when he demonstrates extraordinary fighting skills and manages to elude the Marines and escape the embassy. Even though he can’t remember who he is, he remembers an astounding array of talents that help him stay alive. With the help of a rootless girl (Franka Potente) he met in the embassy, Jason travels from Switzerland to France to follow the clues to his identity. He’s unaware that in America, the CIA is in a panic due to his being alive. Especially Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) the Director of the mysterious Operation Treadstone and Deputy Director Abbott (Brian Cox) both of who are literally sweating pounds off at the thought of Jason Bourne running around loose.
Jason Bourne swiftly comes to realize that his being shot and dumped in the sea is somehow tied into the assassination of a deposed African dictator and if he could keep those pesky assassins that Conklin sends after him off of his back maybe he could piece together what happened long enough to keep himself and his ally Marie alive.
THE BOURNE IDENTITY is what I call a ‘stripped-down’ movie in that there really isn’t much else outside of the plot. There’s no sub-plots, no characters in the movie that have nothing to do with what’s going on, none of that stuff. What you see on the screen is directly related to what’s going on right at that moment. There’s nothing happening that doesn’t advance the plot. Which is okay for a movie of this type. It’s supposed to be nothing but a straight-up and down spy/action-adventure thriller and that’s exactly what we get. The story itself is simplified a lot as compared to the novel it’s based on and even the made for TV mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain (which I’ve seen and it ain’t bad at all) focusing mostly on Jason Bourne trying to find out who he really is and not much more than that.
Matt Damon is terrific as Jason Bourne. He needs to give lessons in how to play an action hero to his boy Ben Affleck. Matt Damon is wonderfully physical and totally believable in the fight scenes as well as a scene where he scales the outside of a building ala Spider-Man to escape. Franka Potente is a charming actress who I loved in “Run Lola Run” but here her only purpose is to have another character for Jason Bourne to explain things to and thereby, explain them to us. Chris Cooper and Brian Cox have a lot of fun sniping at each other and sweating every time Bourne gets away from one of their assassins. Julia Stiles has a small role as a CIA technical support agent in Paris and pay attention to her here because she’ll play a much larger role in the two sequels. Clive Owen is great as an assassin who corners Jason Bourne in a farmhouse and their showdown is one of the best sequences in the movie.
The acting in this movie is a lot better than it needs to be and goes a long way to lifting what is essentially a B movie plot into the A- minus class. The fights are fairly realistic and when Jason Bourne walks away from a fight he does so bruised up and limping. One of the best scenes has Franka Potente’s character going in shock after witnessing an extraordinarily brutal fight that ends in a surprising death. It’s that kind of action-adventure movie that tends to deal with death a little more realistically than most movies of the genre. And once in a while I find it genuinely refreshing to watch a movie where the big action sequences don’t rely on CGI.
So should you see THE BOURNE IDENTITY? You probably already have, as well as the two sequels. But just in case you haven’t, please go ahead and spring for the rental fee. THE BOURNE IDENTITY is a solid movie in terms of story, characterizations, action and pacing. I love spy movies and THE BOURNE IDENTITY is a superior example of the genre. Enjoy with my blessings.