Review: The Bourne Identity (2002)

Doug Liman directs the first in the Bourne franchise. Based on Robert Ludlum's novel, The Bourne Identity follows amnesiac Jason Bourne

The Bourne Identity, led by one-time director of the franchise Doug Liman, introduced the world to Jason Bourne, a mysterious figure found floating in the Mediterranean Sea, wounded and without his memory.

As The Bourne Identity unfolds, small pieces of information are trickled into the narrative, forming a picture of a secret agent with skills in combat and perception unmatched by almost all others. This central conceit is a sure-fire way to propel the narrative forward as, not only does it provide Matt Damon’s Bourne with a continuous goal, but effectively gives the audience the same goal: the ‘truth’.

The film’s aesthetic is one of cold and unknown places not often seen in mainstream Hollywood film: Zurich, Paris and rural France. The European setting adds to the sense of the unknown, as the areas shown are not those of easily recognisable landmarks, giving The Bourne Identity a very specific and effective atmosphere.

As the action hikes up, Bourne and his partner Marie (Franka Potente) are drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the CIA and a host of brutal killers sent to bring them down. The fight scenes are brutally kinetic, with fast-paced action barely contained within the frame – a truly impressive characteristic, at the time unique to the franchise. The film also features an extremely memorable car chase through the streets and alleys of Paris, brilliantly executed and paying homage to the long-standing history of the Mini Cooper in film.

The most unexpected success of this first film is Damon’s ability to play such a deadly and enigmatic character with such naivety and innocence, extremely unexpected from the role and creating a surprisingly sympathetic character where usually you would not find one. This is helped by the presence of Franka Potente as Maria, a German woman caught up in Bourne’s journey. This role is very important in providing a sounding board for Bourne’s frustrations whilst allowing him companionship, as without his memory he is without himself, and therefore in need of a consoling presence.

Unfortunately, the film is not without its flaws. Whilst the idea of an amnesiac secret agent hunted by his own government is tantalising, it really has no point to it. The end pay-off is confusing in its own mediocrity, with little resolved or concluded (a fact obviously used to lead on to the next film). Even Jason and Marie’s picturesque reunion (spoiler alert) is unfulfilling as it adds little to the film’s outcome, merely seeming to suggest that Bourne has given up in his search for answers, leaving one thinking: well what was the point to the rest of it then?

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