The Bourne Identity Review

(3.5 STARS)

It was old-fashioned and a new breed of spy film at the same time, and it ended up being one of the most influential films of the past decade. Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity is a great action film that feels very cold but still manages to engage on a number of levels, including an emotional one. There’s no real reason why we should root for Jason Bourne, but we do, and that has to be a result of strong storytelling and direction from Liman and a great performance by Matt Damon. And while this film doesn’t feature the same distinctive visual style of its successors (which were directed by Paul Greengrass), its action scenes are crisp and interesting. The whole trilogy is exceptional (one of the very best in years), and it’s something I enjoy going back to over and over again.

Jason Bourne (Damon) is a lethal spy, a seemingly indestructible weapon of the U.S. government, but he has no idea. After being shot twice in the back and throw off a boat, he completely loses his memory. With no idea who he is, who he knows, and where he comes from, he begins to wander across Europe. Eventually, he tracks down an address and hires a drifter, Marie (Franka Potente), to take him to his Paris apartment. Once there, they are attacked by an assassin, but Bourne makes quick work of him, and the pieces of his former life begin to come together.

On Bourne’s trail is Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper), the head of Treadstone (a covert government agency) and Bourne’s former handler who wants him out of the picture after he botched a job. He has a number of resources at his disposal, including the Professor (Clive Owen), another Treadstone asset. If Bourne wants to find out whom he is and stop this once and for all, he needs to not only avoid the Professor’s sniper fire everywhere he goes, but he also needs to get him to talk, for he’s the only way to get to Conklin, and Conklin is the only one who knows who Jason Bourne really is.

The Bourne Identity is first and foremost and action film, and on that front, it’s exemplary. The fight scenes are gritty, intense, and personal, but they are also easy to follow. The shaky cam is present, but it’s not overwhelming (like it is in the sequels). The film’s photography is great, especially during these scenes. The standout is the final showdown between Bourne and the Professor in a field of tall grass. It’s stunning and very well-executed.

The film also completely reworks our idea of a hero. The film’s protagonist is undoubtedly Bourne. We want him to prevail, but should we? The film’s main antagonist is Conklin, but should he be? Why is it that we root for an assassin to prevail over a government official? It’s a new and interesting twist in the action genre, made even more interesting when you consider Bourne isn’t even remotely charismatic or charming. We root for him because he’s vulnerable—a characteristic that doesn’t describe many action heroes.

We also root for Bourne because Matt Damon’s performance makes him oddly likeable. Bourne is a very driven individual (probably because he has nothing), and unlike James Bond, he doesn’t stop to make jokes. It sounds as if he’d be a drag to watch, but it’s actually quite a lot of fun.

The supporting cast is excellent. None of the performances are revelatory or anything, but they all do their jobs well. Clive Owen can be charming, but here he’s more like Bourne—silent and driven. Chris Cooper is always great, including in this film. Conklin, like Bourne and the Professor, is incredibly single-minded, but his determination stems from the necessity to clean up his mess. If he fails, he knows he will be fired—or worse. So he slowly becomes a man willing to do whatever he must to prevent that from happening. Finally, there’s Franka Potente. Marie is the film’s heart, and we actually care about her because of Potente’s very compassionate performance.

When it comes to modern action films, The Bourne Identity is one of the best and probably one of the most beloved and respected. It’s traditional (very reminiscent of Three Days of the Condor), while still being very modern and influential. Plus, it’s got great acting, writing, and direction. What more can you ask for?

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