The Bourne Identity: A Look Back

 

I apologize for the lack of content in the past couple of weeks. A mixture of college prep, recovering from oral surgery, laziness and other work obligations (outside of this website, believe it or not) is to blame. Speaking of surgery, I had my wisdom teeth removed a few weeks ago, and I was essentially stuck in my house for 4 days straight, with nothing to consume but protein shakes and Spaghetti-O’s (not a very good combination). While I was recovering, I was going through some old DVDs to watch. I saw that I had bought the Bourne Trilogy a few years back. This would be perfect to watch, and it would help me get excited for the upcoming sequel, Jason Bourne (out July 29th). So I decided that I would re-watch all three of the films, and surprise(?), they still hold up immensely.

The Bourne trilogy is probably the greatest trilogy of action films of not only this century, but arguably of all time. There are very few trilogies of action films that come to mind that were as influential-and possibly detrimental-to modern day Hollywood filmmaking than the first three films chronicling secret agent Jason Bourne’s adventures as he evades the CIA for his past that he can’t seem to remember. It’s also one of those rare trilogies where each film got better than the previous one (we’re not counting The Bourne Legacy in this discussion). The Lord of the Rings trilogy did so, Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy did so, and Matt Damon’s Bourne trilogy did so. You really take for granted how remarkable the films are, from the action, stunts, acting, writing, directing, editing, lack of CGI, etc.

In this post, I’m going to dive into all the first Bourne film, The Bourne Identity. Not only was this the first in the trilogy, but its also a film that’s very smartly made with some of its flaws bogging it down from being a masterwork of the action genre. I hope you dig the review. Oh, and there might be a spoiler or two if you haven’t seen these films.

 

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The first film that kicked off this trilogy is in my opinion the weakest of the three original films, which by no means this is a bad film. Its also not a perfect film, with problems that I’ll address during the piece. This film introduces us to Jason Bourne’s world. We first see Bourne (Matt Damon) floating in the middle of the ocean, waking up on a fishing boat with no recollection of who he is and how he ended up in the ocean. After getting into Europe, the authorities begin chasing him, which Bourne begins to realize that he must’ve been some sort of agent that somebody in the CIA wants. Those said people are Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper) and Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), two higher-ups at the CIA who ran Treadstone, a black-ops program that Bourne was apart of. From there, Bourne and his new German friend Marie (Franka Potente) are on the run throughout Europe in a slow but still very exciting and fun film.

The first film was directed by Doug Liman, which was the only Bourne film he would ever direct (he would go on to executive produce the next two films). The first Bourne film is notable for its very troubled production history. Universal Pictures wasn’t happy with Liman about the pacing of the film, the fact that the budget had gone $8,000,000 over, and there were concerns over the third act, which many at Universal found to be unsatisfactory and boring. While I’ll agree that the finale isn’t as action packed as the rest of the film, or as nail-biting as the next two third act finales in the second and third films, it’s a quiet and meticulous sequence that is an effective and satisfying for the audience. The brief but tense shootout in the staircase is quite exciting, even if the decision for Bourne to use a dead body as a means to fall several stories to the ground in order to shoot a bad guy is a bit much (the laws of physics begin to subtly get stripped away film after film in this series).

That’s not to say there aren’t exciting action set pieces throughout the rest of the film, with the highlight of the film being that exciting car chase through the streets of Paris. The scene is just flat-out brilliant, with the credit going toward second unit director Alexander Witt, who went on to work the second unit on the 007 films Casino Royale and Skyfall. Everything about the sequence is exciting and fluid. from the editing, stunt choreography, the music, the cinematography, etc. While this isn’t my favorite Bourne film, this might be the most impressive car chase in the entire series, right next to the car chase in Ultimatum (and the car chase through the streets of Las Vegas in Jason Bourne looks equally impressive).

The film can be a turn-off to some who are expecting a balls-to-the-wall action flick. This is a very talky action film, but the quieter parts of the film work because of the terrific screenplay by Tony Gilroy and the direction by Liman. While Liman is best known nowadays for being an action director, he began his career making really interesting movies like the buddy comedy classic Swingers. He’s great when it comes to directing actors, and he’s become even better at directing action in his later career (Edge of Tomorrow). The story of the CIA going after one of their rogue agents sounds generic, but the acting and twists in the screenplay make it all compelling and interesting enough for the movie-goer. Matt Damon became one of the biggest movie stars in the world because of this film, and it makes sense watching his performance. He’s not your typical macho action star. He’s a character with levity and depth, one that can’t remember anything about his past and it drives him almost to the breaking point from time to time. It’s the performance that’s come to define Matt Damon’s career, and it’s not surprise that he finally gave in and agreed to do another Bourne film 10 years after Ultimatum.

The rest of the cast is stellar. Chris Cooper is essentially playing every other version of Chris Cooper that we’ve seen before and after this film, the authoritarian type who barks orders at others, but he’s so damn good at that type of role that all is forgiven. Franka Potente plays Marie, a German woman who Bourne befriends and falls in love with during his journey to reclaim his identity. She’s very good in the film, and is a character that’s more than a love interest/damsel-in-distress. Brian Cox is in the same boat as Cooper in that he can perform the barking authoritarian type in his sleep and it would still be compelling. Cox’s performance is a little more memorable in part to his appearance in the next film, which is something Cooper wasn’t really able to do due to his being killed off in this film (Cooper does make a cameo in flashbacks during Supremacy, but it’s not enough to write home about.

Compared to what Paul Greengrass did with the next two films, The Bourne Identity pales in comparison. But The Bourne Identity is still one of the very best spy films made in the last couple of decades. Its smart, meticulous, thrilling, well written/acted/directed, and then some. The movie can be a little sluggish at times, with Liman having some trouble with pacing here and there, but the story and set-pieces are enough to keep you entertained.

Later in the week, I’ll give you my review of The Bourne Supremacy, and then The Bourne Ultimatum. Look out for those reviews.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Bourne Identity: A Look Back

  1. I agree that The Bourne Identity was probably the most influential action film of this century (at least so far ha ha). The James Bond production team basically said as much when they discussed their need to reboot Bond and escape the late-period Pierce Brosnan jokiness. I actually prefer the first one to the later two – I’m not counting The Bourne Legacy as part of the canon – as I think Liman is a better action director than Greengrass. Greengrass is great with his cinema verite style, but I think it works better for films like United 93 than a straight out action film. I guess I prefer my action to be shot a little more classically. We’ll see how the action is in Jason Bourne.

  2. Pingback: Jason Bourne: MOVIE REVIEW | Movie Talk with Jake Salinas

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