The Bourne Identity (2002)

Directed by Doug Liman

Expository in nature, The Bourne Identity is a good but ultimately forgettable action movie – until it is seen in the context of all three Jason Bourne movies. It works as a kind of establishing shot. It presents the character of Jason, the situation he is in and the visual look and tone of what would follow, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.

Context is the word that keeps coming to mind when I see this movie now. There is the story’s context but there is also the historical context of when the movie came out and how the look and pace affected audiences.

It’s documentary-like visual style of the images it presented – the jerky, hand held, “in the middle of the action” look – as well as the adrenal pace of the movie (almost a lazy stroll now when seen against the two subsequent movies), was unusual for general audiences.

When I look at what I originally wrote about the movie, I can see how I had difficulty getting a handle on it. I think it is because when I first saw it, around the time it came out on DVD, it mixed several elements that in my mind were, at the time, separate and distinct. Action movie equals big budget Hollywood, like a Bond film or a Die Hard. A documentary, or independent look was a low budget, character study.

So there was something of a disconnect.

Almost a decade later, and in the wake of the two sequels that followed, the disconnect is gone and the movie has found its level, in a sense, as well as its place and significance: the start of the series and, for the filmmakers, the manual on how to make the movies that came after.

It is especially telling to see The Bourne Identity against the last movie, Ultimatum.

Revising what I originally wrote

One the better espionage, action-adventure films is The Bourne Identity. It works because it’s very quickly paced and gets strong performances from everyone involved. Matt Damon does surprisingly well in his role.

The film begins with a fishing boat coming upon an unconscious man floating in the water. When he comes to, it turns out he has no idea who he is, though he has some unsettling hints of who he might have been.

He has been shot twice in the back. He has uncommon survival skills.

What knowledge he has is eclectic and disturbing.

The story follows this man as he slowly tries to discover who he is. As he does, he meets a woman who becomes a kind of partner. Growing numbers of people seem to be after him, some of whom are trying to kill him.

The pacing keeps this moving briskly so you never really stop to think through issues like credibility.

In some way the action sequences, like fights, are a bit cartoon-like. They are fast, quickly edited and staccato with their jump cuts. It is as if static comic book action images are flashing before us in sequence.

Adding to the intensity of the images and how they are presented is the music, which thrums like an overworked heart.

Overall … A very entertaining action movie – one of the better ones of the action-adventure kind.

But not great.

The Jason Bourne Trilogy:

  • The Bourne Identity (2002)
  • The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
  • The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

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