More noise than signal

The Bourne Identity

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Quite the change of gears, this. The Bourne Identity tells us of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, pulled out of the ocean by a passing trawler with no memory of how two bullets got into him, or indeed anything else about himself. Or why the only identifying item he carries was a now removed surgically implanted laser projector that shows a Swiss bank account number.

Heading to Switzerland, the safety deposit box he’s pointed to reveals his identity on a passport. Jason Bourne. That’s it. Film’s over. Well, no, of course not, there’s also a stash of other passports of varying nationality and name, and stacks of cash, and a handgun. Which ties in nicely with his unexpectedly elite hand to hand combat skills. I’m starting to think there’s something unusual about this Bourne character.

However, appearing at the bank kicks of a tumult of activity in the CIA’s black ops division, as they try to work out how to bring Bourne back in, dead or alive. Dead seems to be the preferred option, as they activate a number of similarly deadly agents to hunt Bourne down, including Clive Owen, again showing why he’s the best Bond we never got even on the other side of the equation.

Bourne goes on the lam with Franka Potente’s Marie Kreutz, initially just opportunistically hired to drive him to Paris to follow the breadcrumbs of his past life, but their relationship soon grows stronger, in the way that only car chases, shootouts and bone-crunching combat scenes can engender.

Plotwise, there’s not a lot more to it, really, although there’s a very strong smoke and mirrors routine going on that will stop you realising that. Information is doled out with ruthless efficiency, keeping you invested in the story of Bourne’s past deeds and how they come back to haunt him, aided greatly by an excellent turn from Matt Damon, who I don’t think we’d necessarily have expected to be this good at the action side of things.

Now, it’s not a pioneer in anything that it’s doing, but it’s doing an excellent job of synthesising the best parts of action cinema from across the globe and mashing it together to create a exceptionally pleasing blend that became quite the template for Western action cinema going, and indeed Bond itself, who followed this formula to the letter in the Casino Royale reboot, even the parkour segments.

It’s legacy, pardon the pun, is tempered only by the sequels which told more or less the same story another three times with, to be fair, reasonable success, albeit pointlessly. There’s an awful lot to like here, and from people you’d not necessarily have expected, not just Damon, but director Doug Liman, previously of Swingers fame. Quite the shift in genres, and I expect second unit under director Alexander Witt deserves a lot more of the credit for a lot of the success, alongside Saar Klein’s kinetic editing.

A very good thriller indeed, and up there with The Matrix in terms of shaping how Western action cinema is today. Unlike xXx, if you’d told me this film came out last week I wouldn’t have questioned it. Apart maybe from the Moby track. Don’t get a lot of him to the pound these days. Anyway, great stuff, go watch.