Matt Damon - Jason Bourne
Franka Potente - Marie Helena Kreutz
Chris Cooper - Alexander Conklin
Brian Cox - Ward Abbott
Julia Stiles - Nicky Parson
Clive Owen - The Professor
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje - Nykwana Wombosi
Year - 2002
Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4
I like a good spy film every once in a while. What's not to love about them? The gorgeous locales, the beautiful women, and action scenes that would be talked about for days - espionage films are pretty cool. But by 2002, James Bond was becoming pretty lame and new spy blood was needed for the action spy genre. Two spy films would be released in the summer around the same time: THE BOURNE IDENTITY and xXx. While Vin Diesel's xXx would be the brainless spy film for the MTV generation, THE BOURNE IDENTITY was almost a throwback to the days where story, and not visuals and action, drove the film along and kept our interest. I remember when I first saw the trailer to this film. While it looked really cool, I couldn't get over the fact that Matt Damon was in an action film. And in the lead no less. This is the same guy who was dubbed "The Nice Guy" due to his roles in GOOD WILL HUNTING, THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE, and ALL THE PRETTY HORSES. What made this guy an action star? The film would surely fail, right? Nothing was further from the truth. Mr. Damon proved to me that you should never judge a book by its cover, because he helped reinvent the spy genre for a new generation and create a kickass franchise in the process, starting with THE BOURNE IDENTITY.
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is found floating lifeless in the ocean until he is helped and revived by a group of European fishermen. When he wakes up, Jason realizes he has amnesia and can't remember anything about his life. Along the way, he discovers that he can speak and understand a multitude of languages. Jason is also pretty good at the art of espionage and can kick serious butt without a thought. With the help of a laser bullet [which was placed in his hip region] that reveals a Swiss bank account number, Jason begins to learn who he is and that he may have been an assassin. Along the way, Jason meets Marie (Franka Potente), who he uses for a ride to France. Because of her aiding Jason, Marie becomes a target of the CIA [led by Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper), who happens to want Bourne "missing" for messing up his last mission]. The two begin a cat-and-mouse game with Jason's former superiors and their hired hands, as the truth slowly becomes unravelled.
Based on a novel by Robert Ludlum, THE BOURNE IDENTITY is exactly what the spy genre needed. It's got a simple, yet effective story, a great cast, and some decent action that keeps the pace quick enough where you'll never feel bored and always intrigued by the story. The direction by Doug Liman [who also directed SWINGERS and GO] is very relaxed and reserved for an action film, giving more focus to character development and the relationships of the characters to each other than fight scenes and car chases. And don't worry, the fight scenes and car chases are well-directed [especially the fight scenes, which are incredibly choregraphed and visually impressive]. Liman also seems to stay away from standard cliches we would see in action films to create a film that feels very fresh and modern, even though it has quite an old-school feel at the same time. And while a guy with no memory of his life still comprehends how to speak different languages and perform martial arts moves on a whim [does amnesia work like that in real life?] seems implausible, it's actually quite effective and believable in THE BOURNE IDENTITY due to the context surrounding the story itself. Plus great editing, pacing, and cinematography, this film visually looks like a winner. A very well done job by Mr. Liman, as he does a great job combining the romantic and more intimate portions of the story with the action sequences needed to keep audience interest.
I thought the story was well-told. We journey along with Jason Bourne from beginning to end in a way that most films don't try to do. We, as an audience, love rooting for the everyman [who we are normally] and for the hero who always seems to know how to defy the odds [who we want to be]. Jason Bourne is both. He can perform fight moves that most of us would die to learn just so we can do it ourselves, but at the same time, he's a down-to-earth guy who doesn't really understand who he is and how he does the things that he does. The fact that Bourne has amnesia from the beginning is a great tool for sympathy. While we don't know anything about the guy, he's on the same boat because he doesn't know anything about himself either. When he learns something new about himself, we learn it along with him. When we see all these government officials doing things to get rid of him, we wonder why along with him. His reactions to situations become our reactions. We are allowed to project ourselves onto the character of Jason Bourne because he's a blank slate. And because of that blank slate, we are invested in Jason Bourne from beginning to end, sticking with him until he completely regains his memory back.
I also liked the rest of the characters in the film, as they were not caricatures or stereotypes that we usually see in these kind of films. Marie wasn't the typical "Bond Girl" bombshell that we're used to seeing in these films. She was strong, intelligent, and actually helpful to Bourne's quest. And we could see how she would be attracted to Bourne. I'm sure it's quite a rush to be placed in an action-packed situation like that with a guy you barely know and who barely knows himself. Women apparently like a good mystery. Plus it didn't hurt that Bourne was a good-looking dude. I thought Damon and Potente had good chemistry together and didn't really seem forced. And the villains of the film were also complex as well. We are never really sure whose side they're really on, as they all have different reasons for wanting Bourne eliminated. While we don't root for them [who wants to root for the government anyway], we start to understand them and find it believable as to their vicious methods so they can save their own asses from a scandal. Makes me question whether something like this really does happen in real life. How many cover-ups for situations are out there? Makes me wonder how much of the truth about what goes on in the news and with our government dealings we really know.
The acting is really good here. Matt Damon, of course, is excellent as Jason Bourne. He's a great dramatic actor, but he really surprised me with how well he handles action. He carries the film on his shoulders and we keep watching because of him, wanting to know more about his Bourne character. His reactions to everything that happens around him [from surprise, to anger, to frustration, to that feeling of just wanting to live a normal life] are all very believable and we have no problem feeling sympathy for him. And the scenes where he needs to do battle with his hands or with weapons are exceptionally done. You could tell that he trained long and hard to play this character and it really shows. I think the moment where I knew he'd be perfect for the role is when he attacks those cops who wake him up for sleeping on a park bench. His facial expressions to when he instinctively grabs the nightclub and physically manhandles the both of them like it was a natural thing are awesome. And then after he finishes the deed, he drops the gun in fright and runs away scared. Most action heroes usually do things like this and try to act macho like they're the biggest shit on film. But Matt Damon doesn't do that with Bourne and actually makes our hero HUMAN. That's why I love the BOURNE films - thanks to Matt Damon.
Franka Potente is also great as Bourne's companion, Marie. Like I mentioned before, she's no beautiful damsel-in-distress that distracts the hero from his quest. She's actually a big help to Bourne in figuring out who he is [even though she's understandably freaked out at first when the CIA gets information on her that she didn't know possible]. Potente also has some good chemistry with Damon, as their relationship, while sudden, is actually quite believable. You can obviously feel the sexual tension between the two [the eye contact is pretty heavy] and aren't surprised when they actually get together. Potente was great in RUN, LOLA, RUN and she's great here too.
Chris Cooper is also great in his limited role as the lead villain, CIA official Alexander Conklin. We see his fear and frustration when he learns that Jason Bourne is still alive, desperately finding ways to keep him a "ghost" so no government scandal is released to the press. I actually felt he was pretty underused in the role, as he would pop up occasionally to react horrifically to Bourne taking out all of the operations Conklin sent against him. Only at the end is where we really see Cooper act out and spew venom when he confronts Bourne, giving Bourne his first flash of memory of the night before his "accident". I honestly didn't think Conklin was that threatening of a villain, as he seemed kinda conflicted with his actions. I thought the other underused actor, Brian Cox [who's great in any film he's involved in], was more villainous. You could tell that Cox's Ward Abbott had his own agenda in wanting Bourne gone for good, and pretty much proved that to be the case towards the end. Until that point, we never were sure who was the puppet and who was the puppeteer between the two. Great acting, while limited, from both.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE WATCHING THIS FILM
1) The CIA are shady people. They attempt to kill operatives that may have interfered with plans, may have been part of murdering certain political figures, and probably have the black Michael Jackson hidden away somewhere while his white clone continues to destroy his legacy. Don't get me started on Elvis Presley, 2Pac, and Biggie...
2) Don't wake up a sleeping person on a park bench. He'll probably kick your ass. Those homeless people are pretty scary.
3) Pretty European women will do anything for money, even if they know it'll get them in trouble. How else do you think David Hasselhoff sold so many albums over there? But don't worry, these women usually face the consequences in the sequel.
4) European women like mysterious men with amnesia. They don't have to worry about ex-girlfriends popping up, prejudgments about their weight, or the possible STD they'll get if they sleep with them.
5) If you need a quick weapon to take out a crazed assassin, use a pen. After all, it is mightier than the sword.
6) Don't mess with Clive Owen. He's fought alongside badass hookers, traded swords with King Arthur, survived Jennifer Aniston's mediocre acting, and didn't get any diseases just by standing next to Jude Law. That dude from LOST didn't stand a chance.
7) But then again, Matt Damon survived THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE and Ben Affleck for many years. Sorry Clive, but your fate in the film has just been DERAILED!
Get it? That was the film Clive Owen was in with Jennifer Aniston. It was called...DERAILED. Sigh, I'm too old for this shit.
8) Jason Bourne found out he's an assassin by reading the newspaper. I think that's how Lee Harvey Oswald found out he was one. Oooh...conspiracy...
9) Don't expect the Paris Police to catch anyone who may be against the law. After all, they have something big going against them: They're French.
10) The CIA kills its own people when they fail to complete a mission. Man, they're worse than the managers for Menudo!
THE FINAL HOWL
THE BOURNE IDENTITY is a great introduction to the world of Jason Bourne. While not perfect, the film keeps hitting you from start to finish with its fascinating story and fantastic action. Matt Damon would never play a better character and this is the film where he finally deserved his leading man's status. If you like a good mystery involving spies and assassins, this will definitely fit the bill. THE BOURNE IDENTITY is one film you most likely will not forget.