The Bourne Identity

It's surprising that it took nearly two decades to get a big budget adaptation of Robert Ludlum's 1980 spy thriller The Bourne Identity to the big screen. There was already a television movie in 1988 starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith, but now it gets the treatment it deserves. Plus, The Bourne Identity may spell franchise, since it was the first in a successful trilogy for Ludlum. The basic premise is that a fishing vessel off the coast of Europe finds a man (Matt Damon, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, The Majestic) floating in the water with two bullets in his back. He has no idea who he is or how he got there, and the only clue to his past is a Swiss bank account number implanted in his thigh. Once he accesses the account, he finds numerous passports from different nations. They all have different names, and all of them have his picture. He also finds a large sum of money and a gun. Soon, this man realizes that he has mastery over numerous languages, and is also skilled in hand-to-hand combat.

The American passport he has contains the name Jason Bourne, which, as far as he is concerned, is as good as place as any to start. Nevertheless, he quickly finds himself the target of police. The few clues he found point to an apartment in Paris, and he enlists the help of Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente, Storytelling, Blow), a German student trying to get back into the United States. In exchange for a large sum of money, she agrees to drive him to Paris. It turns out that Bourne is part of a covert CIA operation called Treadstone, and Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper, The Patriot, Me, Myself, and Irene) is his supervisor. Once Conklin learns that Bourne is active again, he goes all out in trying to kill him. Conklin's boss Ward Abbot (Brian Cox, The Rookie, The Affair of the Necklace) is also especially sensitive to Bourne's fate. The US government does not sanction Treadstone, and Bourne failed in his mission. Conklin sends a number of other Treadstone operatives out to assasinate Bourne, so that Treadstone involvement will stay secret.

The Bourne Identity is a good example of style over substance. This is standard spy thriller, given a hyperactive treatment by indie director Doug Liman (Go!, Swingers). The story is fairly standard, and a closer inspection reveals that it is pretty empty. There is not much substance to Bourne or his predicament, and this is including the fact he does not know who he is. He is more lucky in finding clues to his past than anything else. In fact, in the twenty years since the initial publication of the book, the political landscape of the world has changed drastically, prompting some heavy revisions by screenwriters Tony Gilroy (Proof of Life, Bait) and William Blake Herron (A Texas Funeral, Skin Art). Still, the story maintains a sort of retro theme, which is part of its allure. This is a more old-fashioned spy movie masquerading as a modern one. It doesn't require much thought; it is escapist entertainment. Liman is able some flashy angles and camerawork to add suspense to the proceedings. He also keeps the audience hooked with little downtime between car chases or shootouts, and doles out just enough information about Bourne's past to keep people wanting more.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R for violence and some language.

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