The Bourne Identity (2002)

The Bourne Identity is an action spy thriller based on Robert Ludlum’s novel of the same name. Not being an avid reader, I’ve never checked out Ludlum’s book, so my review of this film is necessarily from a purely cinematic standpoint: I cannot compare it to the work it’s based on, so if you have that background information this may not be the review for you.

While I can’t say anything about the book, I can certainly say that the film is an enjoyable action film that stands out amongst its genre’s other usual fare. Which is not to say that the film is revolutionarily intelligent or original. It’s just good at being an exciting thriller.

The Bourne Identity stars Matt Damon as a secret agent who is found in the ocean with bullet wounds in his back, and who suffers from amnesia. Eventually, he takes the name Jason Bourne from one of many passports he finds in a safety deposit box, the code to which was in a chip inside his hip. During his mission to discover who he was, he meets up with Franka Potente, who then accompanies him as they are chased down by the CIA.

Like I said, the story isn’t anything groundbreaking, but that doesn’t make it any less engaging. Bourne is forced to run around various places in Europe as he learns more about his past and why he is being chased. His revelations aren’t very surprising, but it’s still fun to watch him discover that he can speak a ton of different languages or kill a man with a pen.

Damon is a great match for this role. He’s a fantastic modern action star, someone who may not be as traditionally tough or masculine as stars like Bruce Willis or Arnold, but makes up for it with intellect and speed, without lacking impressive physical capabilities of his own. Though Bourne is not a very emotional character, Damon is still able to portray him as a sympathetic hero, someone who we can get behind as they do whatever they can to get what they want.

Perhaps part of Bourne’s appeal is his relationship with Potente’s character. I’ve heard that in the book, he is much more threatening and short with her, but I think it’s a fine change to have them develop a sort of chemistry as the film goes on. Potente is a strong character herself; she is confrontational and makes her own choices, even if they are difficult ones. They’re really a good couple together, because it’s easy to believe that they are strong enough to survive and get through everything that they encounter.

The entire cast performs admirably, in fact, but the film is probably better known for its energy than its acting. The Bourne Identity rarely slows down and is unfamiliar with the term “boredom”. It’s a very kinetic movie that derives its movement from both the story and the style. Damon and Potente are always on the run, whether it’s during a very impressive urban car chase in the middle of Paris or it’s Damon chasing a man through a field. When the exhilarating action scenes arrive, they are edited with expertise. Saar Klein and Christopher Rouse, the film’s editors, find a very rare balance between exciting and comprehensible. While there are very fast cuts as Bourne battles his nemeses, it never prevents us from seeing and understanding what is going on. That’s a rare occurrence in modern action films, and it should not be taken for granted.

The only time the film slows down for a bit is when Damon and Potente go into hiding. It isn’t too long before the standstill ends, however, and that sequence actually ends with an excellent rural shoot out between Bourne and Clive Owen. Besides that diminutive delay, only a few things bothered me. One is simply a logical error: At one point an assassin comes through the window of a hotel and eventually exits in the same manner, yet somehow the landlady downstairs is found with a bullet through her head. That’s really just nitpicking, however.

I guess the only other negative thing to be said about the film is that it definitely doesn’t stand on its own. The ending clearly sets up for a sequel, despite its obvious pretense of a happy ending for the protagonists, and perhaps a little more closure could have made this a truly definitive modern action film. Even with this pandering to installments, however, that claim can surely be argued for, because The Bourne Identity is great at being an action thriller.

Final rating: 8/10

–James A. Janisse


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