Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Plot: A man (Damon) is pulled out of the sea with two bullets in his back and no memory. His search for answers reveals his true, horrifying identity.
Age is beginning to show on the Bourne Identity. It doesn’t help that the two sequels were picked up by a superior director, who, rather ironically, gave the Bourne series its identity. Watching this film and the cracks are beginning to show. The movie doesn’t do anything wrong per se, merely suffers the same problems all action movies created in the early 2000s have, especially when compared to the sleek cinematography of the modern Bond films and the Raid. However, Liman also keeps you watching, despite these flaws, because his story is so riveting, so compelling, that while aesthetically, it is ageing quickly, its heart still beats at the pace of the very best of the action genre.
And when all is said and done, the Bourne Identity could almost be placed as a very generic action thriller. A man with no past wanders into town, starts poking around and discovers he is a key part of a government conspiracy – a government that for some reason, wants him dead. The movie mainly consists of Bourne running from both the police and the shady agents who are always tailing him. The fight scenes are the main draw of the film. While The Bourne Identity has fewer fights than you remember, the main punch-up it does have is one of the best fight scenes to come out of that decade. It is intense, frantic and features Matt Damon taking on a trained killer with just a pen. When you leave this film, this will be the scene you will remember. However, the reason Bourne Identity outlives the competition is because it is so much more than a simple action. The story might have been copied and overplayed thousands of times since this film, Bourne Identity’s attention to character detail and mystery puts it leagues away from the rest of them, even if you take away the points it scores for being the original amnesiac thriller. The strength of the movie is that you and the lead character are in the same situation. Both of you have no idea what is next. Jason Bourne is fished out of the sea and realises he has the situational awareness of a veteran soldier and martial arts skills of someone fresh out of the Matrix. As each new clue is uncovered, we are emotionally connected to Jason Bourne, which is what makes these movies so appealing. The director takes both us and the hero and leads us through his conspiracy movie. There are other smaller sides to the story that you might have missed the first time around. Notice how the first group of people Bourne meets (the sailors, Marie), offer selfless acts of kindness to him. If his evolution as a person is reset as his amnesia kicks in, then this is a suggestion that it is nurture that makes a person who he is. The reason Bourne doesn’t return to the monster he was is because he was touched by these group of people taking pity on him and helping him. Maybe if more small acts of kindness were handed out in the world, there would be less evil. It is a small reading to take into account, but a nice thought to hold the movies together, as well as unlocking the character of Bourne.
And what a character! The truth of the matter is, anyone could have played him. Much like Keanu Reeves as Neo in the Matrix, we don’t really need a world class performer to take on the role. He is a blank space, a man without emotion, because he has no idea how he should be feeling. There are large segments of the movie where it is almost criminal that Matt Damon is involved and not asked to do anything more than wander around, cluelessly. Anyone could have played the character. This is one of those opportunities, where you could hand an action hero the role and have his minimal acting abilities not get in the way. Jean Claude Van Damme could have been an alternate Bourne and if we hadn’t experienced Damon’s take on the character, none of us would have been any the wiser. The action and thrills would still work. However, because Damon is attached, it elevates the project excellently. Matt Damon adds the small strokes that just work. The calculation behind the eyes, the frustration of being unable to connect the dots. While the idea that no one else could play Bourne is a little far-fetched in my opinion, I do believe that Matt Damon is a fantastic casting choice. It is a shame that no one else gets a chance to shine. Franka Potente deserves applause for being a charismatic female to pair Damon up with, as well as never caving into the idea of being a narrative token woman for the male hero to take to bed at the end of the story, but outside of their duo, everyone else are foot notes. The idea is to keep them hidden and vague, so we only catch glimpses of their performances. God knows how Julia Stiles became a mandatory addition to each film, because, while I don’t have a problem with the character or actress, she is asked to do very little other than sit at a computer here. Mind you, when you have Matt Damon and Franka Potente providing more than enough character performances to keep the narrative glued together, you don’t really need anyone else doing anything over than coasting.
Final Verdict: Perhaps slightly weaker than you remember seeing as Paul Greengrass perfected the sequels, but the thrills are still strong with this entertaining action.