Released at a time when the James Bond franchise was faltering in quality and believability, The Bourne Identity become a commercial success that further solidified Matt Damon’s place as Hollywood A-Lister and created a franchise to challenge the British secret agent. Based on a novel by Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity was adapted to screen by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron.
Off the coast of Marseilles, France, an unknown man (Damon) is discovered adrift in the ocean. Suffering from retrograde amnesia he travels to Zurich to find a safety deposit box which contains money and a group of passports with his photo in. Assuming the identity of the top passport Jason Bourne, he is suddenly hunted by members of the CIA, working under the authority of Operation Treadstone, run by Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) and overseen by Ward Abbott (Brian Cox). Along with the help of student Marie (Franka Potente) Jason must try and discover who he is before being apprehended by his pursuers.
Unlike the James Bond films The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day, The Bourne Identity opts for a heightened sense of reality in its presentation. The hand-held camera style employed by director Doug Limon pays dividends. The use of European locations somehow leads some extra realism, perhaps because it is so far removed fromHollywood studio sets and obvious CGI.
Damon is superb as the reluctant hero, playing the innocent victim of circumstance who’d like a normal life, but is anything but. His supporting cast from bohemian innocent-turned fugitive Marie to the sinister and manipulative CIA agents all add an extra layer of intrigue with their solid performances. There were shooting problems and script rewrites in the build-up to The Bourne Identity’s launch, but these are almost unnoticeable and there’s too much fun to be had to really worry about them.
At a time when spy-action-thrillers were seemingly in decline, The Bourne Identity breathed new life into the tired genre. From the moment Bourne explodes into action for the first time to the final reel, via an awesome Mini Cooper car chase, The Bourne Identity is a break-neck speed adrenaline rush that’s as fun as it is completely bonkers.