Matt Damon takes on the role of Robert Ludlum’s most famous creation in the 2002 adaptation of his novel. While it could be argued that Paul Greengrass perfected the Bourne storytelling style with Supremacy and Ultimatum, Liman introduced all the visual language of that style in the first film.
When compared to its sequels, even Legacy and Jason Bourne, The Bourne Identity feels smaller. There is definitely less travel involved for the character, sticking mainly to continental Europe and the U.S..
When a half-dead body is pulled aboard a fishing boat the crew is amazed to discover that not only is there still life in it, but that he has no idea who he is. Pockmarked in bullet holes, and with the information of a bank account hidden in the skin over his hip, he sets off to discover who he is.
Taking the name Jason Bourne, from one of the many different passports he discovers in his safe deposit box, he unwittingly pulls at the strings of a secret government project he is a part of, Treadstone, and soon finds himself on the run, pulling a young German woman, Marie (Franka Potente) in with him.
Soon Treadstone is determined to track him down, using it’s Paris location run by Nicolette (Julia Stiles) as it’s centre point. Overseen by Conklin (Chris Cooper) in the U.S., assassins are dispatched as our countless wanted posters to make escape as difficult for Bourne as possible.
As the story unfurls, which differs greatly from the original novel, and only serves as a launching point for the series, though there are a few similarities (arguably not enough to satisfy the hardcore Ludlum fans), we learn Bourne’s true nature, if not who he really is.
Amongst the operatives who are pursuing him is The Professor (Chris Owen, who has perhaps three lines in the entire film, but his presence is felt throughout it), and their confrontation helps to lead Bourne to a face to face with Conklin.
There is a great supporting cast throughout the film, including Brian Cox, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Gabriel Mann and Walter Goggins, and the rapid style cuts, maps, inserts; the editing, and more develop the visual language of Bourne’s spycraft and the world he inhabits.
The film, and its first pair of sequels shook up the action genre (featuring a kinetic fighting style, and rapid cutting, and lots of handheld camera work), when they came along, giving us a different kind of spy movie, one that cinema-goers argued that perhaps the James Bond franchise should take note of.
And while it could be argued that the latest 007 films have taken note of the Bourne films, they remain their own thing, and instead the Jason Bourne series has simply given Matt Damon the opportunity to shine as an action star as his character is as open and honest as his mind is closed, and his training can apparently get him out of anything.
I really enjoy these movies, and while I’ve covered Supremacy, Ultimatum and Legacy for the blog before, I’ll take a look at the final film (to date) next time I dig into a Bond novel for the book shelf.