Just saying the word conjures up images in the mind’s eye. Spies exchanging information in darkened alleyways. Assassins taking aim at political figures and enemies. Clandestine government agencies plotting against each other while wheels work within wheels within wheels. The lines between friend and foe blurred to the point of absurdity.
The Bourne Identity has all of that and more.
Based on the Robert Ludlum book of the same name, Doug Liman’s 2002 film opens with a man floating in the water, half dead with gunshot wounds. As he recovers, it becomes apparent he has no idea who he is due to a case of full on amnesia. The truth, or a version of it, comes to light in a Zurich bank deposit box where the man finds various passports with his face but different names, currencies from different countries, assorted effects, and a gun. He takes the name from the American passport as his own and heads back out into the world as Jason Bourne.
The amnesiac “Bourne” is thrust into a world he is unprepared for. He has no idea how he knows how to fight, use a gun, or speak a variety of languages. The CIA is after him, making his decision to go to the American Consulate a bad one as he’s flagged immediately. On the upside, it justifies the constant paranoia he’s suffering from and it’s there that he connects with a Marie Kreutz. She becomes his co-pilot in this insane journey of self-discovery.
Jason Bourne is an enigma, a man on the run trying to figure out the truth while simultaneously disappearing underground. Each answer he finds brings two more questions and three more threats. Everyone is a potential enemy, everyone is a potential ally.
The film itself is unique in the genre of spy/action thrillers. While it contains one of the most amazing car chases through Paris ever shot, the action scenes are surprisingly minimalist and self-contained. In The Bourne Identity, a fist fight doesn’t lead to a train explosion. It leads to someone getting punched in the face. And Jason Bourne himself is a perfectly flawed hero, even beyond his amnesia. He’s well-trained and talented at his dubious profession but he isn’t infallible, either. While he is able to stay one step ahead of his enemies, they always seem to catch up and find a way to hurt him. Bourne gets as good as he gives.
The subterfuge of the CIA is also a key to this film. As Bourne unravels his past and his mission, the program that produced him struggles to track him down and keep him quiet. They don’t need a whistle blower on their hands, though they are wholly unaware of his situation or his amnesia.
Not that either of those things would have stopped them from trying to kill Bourne.
The Bourne Identity was followed by two sequels featuring Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. While they did not necessarily live up to the first film, they did a great job of expanding on Bourne’s search for the truth as he follows the program back to its source. A fourth movie, The Bourne Legacy, set in the same world starring Jeremy Renner as a different subject/survivor from a related program was also released with plans for a movie to combine the Renner and Damon iterations in a new film. The three Damon films can all be found on Netflix.
The film that spawned the Bourne franchise is filled with intrigue as a spy movie should be. Beyond that, it’s set against a surprisingly engaging framework of character development and punctuated by bursts of low key but still intense action.
If you haven’t check out The Bourne Identity or the Damon sequels, now’s the time to binge watch them all.