At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Bourne Identity “02”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Action-Thriller/ Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Gabriel Mann, Julia Stiles, Orso Maria Guerrini, Tim Dutton, Walton Goggins, Josh Hamilton, Brian Huskey/ Runtime: 119 minutes

In the long-gone year of 1962, the film industry broke new ground when, with the release of a film called Dr. No, it unleashed a British secret agent by the name of Bond, James Bond upon the world and he instantly became an iconic character in the action spectrum of film to the point that his legacy manages to continue to this very day in what is the longest running series of action films in movie history. Not content with this particular icon however, audiences were then introduced, starting in 1988, to a quippy cop from New York City by the name of John McClane, and watched as he dispatched brutal yet witty justice upon a group of about a dozen terrorists who had taken over the Nakatomi Plaza building. A feat that earned this astonishing icon at least a quartet of sequels, even as the last one back in 2013 seems to have been quite DOA upon arrival. Which then brings us to the year 2002 and this was a truly special year. This, you see dear reader, was the year that we got Matt Damon, known then more for his work in Good Will Hunting, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and films of that ilk more than anything else, in an espionage film with a director by the name of Doug Liman at the helm, and the resulting film was no less than stellar and the character would quickly become Damon’s most well-known outside of Linus Caldwell in the Ocean’s films and the titular character in the phenomenal drama Good Will Hunting. Indeed to many people Jason Bourne is what you would get if you put James Bond in the present day with the caveat provided that Bond had no idea who he was. Yet when backed up by a potent turn by Damon, Bourne really does feel more like his own person aka a spy who is highly trained, highly dangerous, and highly forgetful apparently as well. Yet if you are wanting to see just where this iconic character got his start in the world of movie magic, then look no further because that is the film which I am showcasing today. Indeed it might not be the best in the series, that honor still belongs to the third one, but as far as beginnings go you could honestly do a heck of a lot worse. Indeed, with wonderful work from a terrific cast, a fantastic sense of realism, and some phenomenal action beats, The Bourne Identity, unlike its titular protagonist, is one that you will easily remember and want to watch time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Following his rescue from the ocean with a pair of bullets embedded in his back and zero memory of how he wound up in the ocean, a bewildered and nameless young man with seemingly ingrained fighting and counterintelligence skills tries to put the pieces of a very intriguing life back together. Thankfully a quirky implant in his back manages to direct him to a bank box in Zurich which contains, among other things, a handful of passports, a pile of cash, but most importantly a name: Jason Bourne. Upon making his way, with the reluctant aid of a young woman named Marie, to a flat owned by this Bourne in Paris, our hero is assaulted by a vicious assailant whom he manages to dispose of. An assailant, we discover, is part of a trio of “assets” that have been activated by a CIA black ops chief named Conklin has decided to sic on our hero. It would appear therefore that Conklin, the ringmaster of a secretive project known only as “Treadstone,” has a slimy and shifty agenda of his own in play. An agenda that, unfortunately for our main hero, involves sending him on his way to a quite premature end. Thus, with his resourcefulness, a strong urge to regain his memory, and a reluctant Marie along for the ride, Bourne decides to follow this governmental thread all the way back to its source, all whilst squaring off against another cool and calculated assassin, in the hopes that it will help him put the pieces back together of not only what caused his amnesia in the first place, but of his life before all this ever happened in the first place….

Now even though this film’s director doesn’t really give a lot of credence to the genre of film known as the “thinking man’s action flick,” this is exactly the kind of movie that The Bourne Identity turns out to be. Indeed that is because, as showcased to us by Damon, Mr. Bourne is a well-put together yet renegade secret agent who would rather utilize his instincts and intellect to get out of messy situations instead of physical force. Indeed he routinely gets rid of guns when they are of no use to him, is able to detect a trap way before it can be sprung on him, and he never heads into a conflict without first mentally listing his main objectives as well as a series of back-up plans. Yet even his inevitable scuffles tend to be over quite quickly as well. This is because neither director nor star of the film are really interested in fight sequences that are both overlong and over-the-top. Instead they choose to make these sequences both speedy yet also efficient and give off the feeling that this is a realistic fight rather than one between two seemingly superhuman individuals. Indeed the main character, much like the auteurs who bring him to life, comprehends that survival is not a guarantee in what he does. As such the limitations the character has are utilized to help showcase how he approaches everything he does and not the other way around. This of course says nothing about how wonderful it is that this film cannot be predicted in advance thus making for a more exciting thrill ride nor can it be exaggerate to the point that it feels like an action film from a long time ago. Rather it manages to be its own distinct thing and we as an audience should be all the more grateful for it. Indeed this is also a philosophy that extends to this film’s cast of characters as well. This is because even though they are operating off of emotions that audiences will find familiar, their decision-making is the result of terror that seems real and their responses seem more of that real spur-of-the-moment kind that people do every day rather than staged in any way. Thus as a result we see that not only are the usual plot elements like a romantic subplot between Bourne and Marie are made completely believable courtesy of how natural everything going on seems to be rather than because a screenwriter wills it so, but also plot holes find themselves filled thanks to a desire to really ground everything in some kind of realism.

As for the film’s cast they are all absolutely fantastic. This of course starts with Matt Damon as the titular character of Jason Bourne and he is just excellent plain and simple. Indeed, Damon does a wonderful job of not only showcasing the confusion and conflict within Jason, but also the cleverness and resourcefulness as well. Plus it doesn’t hurt in any way that Damon is also dynamite in the moments where he has to either kick some serious butt, be intense as all get out, or be emotional, or as emotional as Bourne tends to get, with a degree of skill that is just incredible. Indeed it really isn’t hard to see why this is one of Damon’s signature roles because he manages to fit the character to a t. Backing Damon up though is a just as impressive cast of supporting players starting with Franka Potente who is just as wonderful as Bourne’s companion/love interest Marie. Indeed Potente manages to make Marie a three-dimensional character that is both very personable and realistic thus making her the eyes of the audience into this crazy cloak and dagger world. Not only that, but by being as grounded as she is, she really does make for a quite sensitive and also loyal person for Bourne to have in his life. We also get fantastic work from highly dependable actor Chris Cooper as the sinister CIA department chief who is, for the majority of the film, watching every move Bourne makes whilst also trying to ensure that he is bumped off for….reasons I shall not spoil here. Suffice it to say that Cooper manages to do a fantastic job of showcasing a man who is both devoted to his job and cold and clinical in his manner of ensuring that he gets to keep said job whatever the cost. We also get, in a slightly smaller role, wonderful character work from Brian Cox as Conklin’s superior Abbott. Indeed, as the Big Brother to Cooper’s Big Brother, Cox manages to showcase both a stunning amount of both intellect and subtle yet slimy cunning in the amount of screen time he is given. Finally we also get wonderful work from both Julia Stiles and Clive Owen in their smallish roles of Treadstone’s day-to-day operative in Paris as well as a stoically silent yet potentially lethal asset known as “The Professor” that is one of 3 activated to “handle” Bourne respectively. Indeed this is one cast that truly is firing on all cylinders and everyone definitely brings their A-Game to the table.

All in all The Bourne Identity may come off as a slick and brilliant movie in no small part due to how majestically it manages to avoid quite a few if not every single one of the typical clich├ęs for this particular genre while also being in possession of some quite brilliant ideas as well. Yet I also strongly feel that this is, even with those advantages in its corner, still just plain and simply a terrific action film that most certainly is worth mentioning in the same breath as other action-thriller icons as James Bond and John McClane. Indeed, due to an intriguing plot, some truly phenomenal performances, and absolutely fantastic action beats, I guess you could make the argument that with this film both the spy genre as well as the career of its main star truly were…reborn. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Bourne Identity “02” a solid 3.5 out of 5.