The Bourne Identity (2002)
The Bourne Identity (2002)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Release Date: June 14th, 2002 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Doug Liman Actors: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Walton Goggins, Gabriel Mann




miles south of Marseilles, in the Mediterranean Sea, a fishing boat crew discovers the floating, lifeless figure of what they believe is a corpse. But after dragging the body aboard, they find that the man is still alive, though harboring two bullets in his back and carrying an implanted laser device in his hip – containing information about a bank in Switzerland. When the survivor (Matt Damon) regains consciousness, he realizes that his memory has been severely impaired; he can remember various skills, such as tying knots, but he can’t remember his name or how he ended up in the sea. After docking, he must essentially start his life over, hoping that something or someone will remind him of who he is.

When the unidentified man falls asleep on a park bench, he’s nearly arrested by police officers – before he unleashes a whirlwind of martial arts skills that finds his detainers out cold. Clearly, he’s sheltering some powerful secrets. When he makes his way to Zurich, he ascertains that he’s one Jason Bourne – a spy with a wealth of covert operations knowledge and identity-masking passports, ready to disappear into whatever role he might need for any given top-secret assignment. But the cryptic authorities that put him into action are anxious to recover their proficient operative – at any cost.

All the while, the people pushing around papers and sitting in meetings at the CIA facility in Langley, Virginia become the antagonists, unconcerned with collateral damage as they destructively attempt to tie up loose ends. The CIA bigwig in charge, Conklin (Chris Cooper), shouts generic orders at (or abruptly hangs up phones on) stunned associates, who can’t seem to comprehend the gravity of the situation, while elite assassins all over the world are “activated” to hunt down the missing agent. And in the background is his superior, Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), pulling political strings but being even more ineffectual in apprehending a mystery man who is obviously far more skilled than the entirety of his spook peers. Hi-tech surveillance is also a major ingredient, with up-to-the-minute information flowing into a network of interconnected operatives, like a modernized version of “The Net” or “Enemy of the State,” posing additional obstacles for the superspy.

Although the basic amnesia plot sets up the potential for excitement, the editing immediately becomes the most detrimental component in the action-packed world of Jason Bourne. Rather than taking time to admire the choreography of a fight sequence or the arrangement of a hair-raising stunt, the camera cuts rapidly between multiple angles, serving to both disorient the viewer and distract from – quite possibly – the lack of actor training or appealing hand-to-hand combat designs. Some of the stunts are surely sensational; but the editing techniques make this actioner decidedly less effective than it should have been. Even during scenes that maintain their suspense, there’s the lingering sense that greater thrills were possible but overlooked.

Another downfall, which is, unfortunately, a sizable factor for this script, is Franka Potente as Marie. A random, attractive woman, conveniently located right in Bourne’s path, she’s alternately naive, adventurous, petrified, angry, panicky, trusting, and seductive. Behaving like a typical accidental sidekick, then damsel in distress, then willing assistant, then romantic partner, her role is incredibly generic, included solely to give Bourne a love interest and a charge – as if his predicament would have been unwatchable without an opportunity for lovers’ quarrels and spontaneous sex.

But it’s not all traditional action movie silliness. The music by John Powell is a perfect complement to every venture; a few moments of misdirection generate humor and a glimpse of cleverness; extra twists allow for rambunctious conflicts just when things start to calm down; and Clive Owen plays a professional killer called “The Professor,” which is one of the more amusing of cinema hitmen, reminiscent of Jean Reno’s cool cleaner from “La Femme Nikita.” In the end, Bourne may be a bit more human than the likes of James Bond, but with that nuance of realism comes a decrease in car chases, femme fatales, singular henchmen, climactic showdowns, and set pieces.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10