The Bourne Identity (2002)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #15

Danger is Bourne

Country: USA, Germany & Czech Republic
Language: English, French, German, Dutch & Italian
Runtime: 119 minutes

Original Release: 14th June 2002
UK Release: 6th September 2002
First Seen: DVD, 2003

Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Martian)
Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, Creep)
Chris Cooper (Lone Star, Adaptation.)
Clive Owen (Croupier, Children of Men)
Julia Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You, The Omen)

Doug Liman (Swingers, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

Tony Gilroy (The Devil’s Advocate, Michael Clayton)
William Blake Herron (A Texas Funeral, Ripley Under Ground)

Based on
The Bourne Identity, a novel by Robert Ludlum.

The Story
Pulled wounded from the sea, Jason Bourne can’t remember anything about his life, but is a highly-trained combatant. That comes in handy when assassins begin to hunt him down, as he races across Europe with the aid of Marie, a German woman he bumped into, trying to establish the facts about his identity.

Our Hero
A man found floating in the ocean with two gunshot wounds in his back, who can’t remember his own name but can speak several languages and has knowledge of advanced combat skills. A laser projector implanted under his skin leads him to a safety deposit box in Zurich that contains thousands of dollars in cash, a gun, and an array of passports, from which he chooses a name: Jason Bourne.

Our Villains
The CIA’s Operation Treadstone, led by Alexander Conklin, who have an interest in Bourne — an interest that may primarily involve killing him.

Best Supporting Character
Marie, a German woman in the right place at the right time when a chap offers her $20,000 to drive him from Zurich to Paris… and in the wrong place at the wrong time when it turns out a bunch of people want to kill him, and she’s acceptable collateral damage.

Memorable Quote
Bourne: “Who has a safety deposit box full of money and six passports and a gun? Who has a bank account number in their hip? I come in here, and the first thing I’m doing is I’m catching the sightlines and looking for an exit.”
Marie: “I see the exit sign, too. I’m not worried. I mean, you were shot. People do all kinds of weird and amazing stuff when they are scared.”
Bourne: “I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 215lbs and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the grey truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?”

Memorable Scene
Bourne arrives at the US consulate in Zurich, unaware his presence has been flagged after visiting that safety deposit box. As security guards surround him, Bourne demonstrates just what he’s capable of…

Making of
One of the most fraught productions of recent times, the behind-the-scenes woes of The Bourne Identity are too numerous to recount here, but too interesting (if you’re interested in that kind of thing) to overlook. Check out #4 here for more, like this: “It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”

Previously on…
Adapted as a TV miniseries in 1988 starring Richard Chamberlain, which is reportedly much more faithful to the novel.

Next time…
Three sequels to date, with a fourth out this summer. 2008 video game The Bourne Conspiracy takes place in and around the first film, though doesn’t use Matt Damon’s likeness. The film series also revived interest in Ludlum’s books, and consequently nine continuation novels have been penned by Eric Van Lustbader since 2004, with a tenth planned.

1 Saturn nomination (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film)
1 World Stunt Award (Best Work with a Vehicle)

What the Critics Said
“With a two-year shooting schedule, a script that was redrafted more times than the cast care to remember, and Matt Damon making at least two movies (Ocean’s 11 and Spirit) in the middle of all that mess, this thriller comes to the cinemas as much a marked man as its central character. Some of the joins do show, especially towards the end of the film, when a couple of minor characters disappear completely, but by then it has been too much fun to start picking holes.” — Emma Cochrane, Empire

Score: 83%

What the Public Say
“a point of departure from the action/spy genre, further making The Bourne Identity an anti-genre-genre film, is the cat like reflexes of Jason Bourne. Our first vision of him in action (remember, we’ve never seen Matt Damon like this before) is when he is laying on a park bench in Switzerland, approached by two policemen who are about to accuse him of loitering. Within the conversation, Bourne discovers he can effectively speak Swiss-German, and then as soon as one of the officers reaches to touch him, he responds with breathtaking speed and accuracy and before we know it, there is a little pile of police at his feet. […] nice guy Jason can’t really help it. Posit this against the casual cold blooded and calculated moves of the relaxed and suave Bond” — Lisa Thatcher


The name’s Bourne, Jason Bourne… Maybe it was just me, but this Matt Damon action-thriller seemed to arrive under the radar back in the early ’00s (I don’t think I even heard of it until it was on DVD), but quickly established itself as the influential new kid on the block. Perhaps the Paul Greengrass-helmed sequels have been even more influential (they can be credited with bringing the much-derided ShakyCam style of filming action into the mainstream), but for me this first film is still the best of the bunch: an engaging mystery-thriller adrenalised by excellent action sequences.

#16 will be… Bourne again.

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