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Movie Review: The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity
Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron based on the novel by Robert Ludlum
Universal, 2002

At the height of the comic book hero as our ultimate action film star, Universal released The Bourne Identity in June of 2002 and it became an unexpected hit. First, there was director Doug Liman, best known for 1996 comedy Swingers and cult hit Go. And then there was Matt Damon, who had certainly not proved himself a go-to action guy and had been in a string of failures like The Legend of Bagger Vance and All the Pretty Horses.

In The Bourne Identity, Damon plays Jason Bourne, a man who is rescued by a fishing boat after being discovered floating in the ocean. He has amnesia, and has only one lead to follow to his identity: some sort of embedded laser mentioning a bank in Germany. So he scopes it out, finding more clues: passports, fake IDs, and a load of cash.

He’s a wanted man by the CIA in a secret division led by Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper), and loads of international police organizations are hunting him down. However, Bourne, to his surprise, finds amazing instincts kicking in and he’s able to use his brain and his fists with equal measure. Later, he bumps into Marie Kreutz (Franka Portente), who gives Bourne a ride far away from all of the intrigue. But it’s not long before the CIA finds them at every turn, and Kreutz becomes an accomplice.

We know that Bourne is wanted in some connection with a failed assassination attempt on dictator Nykwana Wombosi (Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje), and Conklin’s boss, Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) is looking for heads to roll in a program that he knows of but doesn’t ask questions about. Meanwhile, the program has several of its assassins on the lookout for Bourne, including one known as The Professor (Clive Owen).

This is a fine action film, one that Liman rather surprisingly knocks out of the park. I say surprisingly, despite the fact that I had enjoyed the two films I had seen of his previously. There are at least three amazing sequences in this film, one a car chase that has become the series’ trademark. And he builds some incredible steam between Portente and Damon without any kind of pretentiousness whatsoever.

The delight is watching Bourne being able to use his brain, complemented by his killer instincts. That combo is what makes movies like Die Hard and Hard-Boiled the best action films you’ll ever see. Any action film can blow a bunch of stuff up or have rapid editing to make everything seem like it’s more exciting than it is. When you can make your over-the-top action film seem realistic, then you’ve got a winner. You get even more bonus points for having an interesting, conflicted character and a good mystery to go along with it.

In 2002, The Bourne Identity grossed over $120 million domestically, and became the top rented video for a time, making the sequel inevitable.

Next: The Bourne Supremacy

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