The Bourne Identity (2002)

If you were in a fight who would you want to back you up? Ben Affleck has some heft. He has taken on a meteor, lesbians and even a crazed Sandra Bullock. Or maybe you’d take Matt Damon. “Wait, the same Matt Damon who stars in all those overly-serious period piece dramas?” you might reasonably ask. Well the very same Damon proves himself quite feasible as a thriller hero in The Bourne Identity and might just open a few new doors for himself – in between those overly-serious period piece films.

The flick starts off with a fishing vessel pulling a floating Matt Damon out of the Mediterranean. He has two bullets in his back; a Swiss account number embedded in his hip and no idea who he is or where he came from. He journeys to a Zurich bank where he uses the account number to unlock a safety deposit box. Inside he uncovers a series of different passports, stacks of all kinds of currency and a loaded gun. The box does however yield a name in Paris, Jason Bourne. He offers Marie (Franka Potente) a slew of dollars if she’ll transport him out of the country to where he can find his true identity and flee any police pursuits. It seems Bourne’s previous handlers do know his identity but are hurrying to dispatch other European assassins to make sure that no one else does. They’ve posted pictures of Bourne and Marie for any of their many eyes and ears to report back on.

Damon does begin to recover certain memories and reflexes. Early on he dispatches two Zurich police officers in a park quite handily but still remains clueless to his identity. Once in Paris Damon and Potente become an inseparable team trying to elude snipers, police, and any sort of danger while attempting to fit the puzzle pieces together. The film then descends into a series of great chase scenes and action pieces with bits of story in between. We as an audience root for Damon’s triumph, even if he may well truly be a cold-blooded killer.

The Bourne Identity is a loose translation of the Robert Ludlum spy novel of the same name. The 1980 Cold War novel has been retooled to where the bad guys aren’t Ruskies but CIA bureaucrats (Chris Cooper and Brian Cox) wanting to save face. But in today’s age I think most people would actually wish that the CIA is as powerful and technological advanced as portrayed in the movie.

Damon is a stranger to the action ropes. He’s more accustomed to ride pretty horses in picturesque Texas or gaily kill people in picturesque Italy. While Affleck’s saved the world, like, three times in cinema already Damon has been playing golf. You get the idea. That’s what makes it so surprising how capable Damon is in this unfamiliar territory. He scales walls, he drives a stick shift through a high speed car chase and man does this guy know kung-fu. You just better not have any ball point pens lying around. Run Damon run!

Franka Potente, is there a lovelier woman in the world than you, of the fire head variety in Run Lola Run? She is more than just a “romantic interest” even if that’s the lot she’s been given. She’s a surprising choice to coincide with Damon but a gamble that works marvelously. Hey, it bought my ticket. The chemistry between Potente and Damon doesn’t exactly speak of sparks but they look beautiful onscreen alongside each other.

Doug Liman is the director who put the swinger in Swingers baby. He also directed 1999’s most free-spirited thrill ride Go, so the man knows how to stretch a budget and propel an exhilarating vicarious feeling off the screen. The Bourne Identity is Liman’s first studio backed adventure and he should make his financial parents proud. He has a direct sense of mood and scale, setting the entire film amongst the wonderful backdrop of European cities. The look of the film is great, from the cool colors, the wet snow, to the luscious locales.

The film actually tries to shoehorn more profanity into a PG-13 movie than might be allowed. Potente, while in a hairy situation, will often keep muttering German profanities. After like the 30th time it becomes almost comical that studio execs or the MPAA would just let it slip through just because it wasn’t in English.

Damon eventually does come to learn of his former self as a trained CIA assassin and, as with all memory-recovery movies where the person’s previous life was dubious; they decide to be a better human being. If only more people would lose their memories.

The Bourne Identity is a slick spy caper with arresting visuals and some great propulsive action sequences, in particular a standout car chase through the back streets of Paris. Liman has crafted an intelligent spy thriller for the post Cold War era that makes perfect use of an anti-hero and his conflicts of memory.

Nate’s Grade: B+

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at PictureShowPundits.com (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on June 7, 2002, in 2002 Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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