The Bourne Identity

Released: 2002
Director: Doug Liman

Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente

A spy franchise for the 21st Century

I’m a big fan of the James Bond films. I think that, on the whole, they are sharp, full of excitement and (let’s be honest) as camp as a row of tents.  I recently decided to watch all of the Bond films again to get myself ready for the 50th anniversary next year and the release of Bond 23, Skyfall.  The Daniel Craig films have completely rebooted the franchise but I doubt this could have happened without the influence of the Bourne trilogy, starting with 2002’s The Bourne Identity.

Based on the Robert Ludlum novel, The Bourne Identity starts with a young man found floating in the sea off Marseilles.  He has been shot in the back and is near death.  Physically he recovers quickly, but has completely lost his memory.  He soon discovers that his name is Jason Bourne and he is a highly skilled fighter, linguist and marksman.  While Jason searches for the truth about his life, the CIA are looking for him in connection with a black ops operation codenamed Treadstone.

The Bourne Identity really did put the spark back into the espionage genre.  The action is faster-paced and more realistic than anything we had seen before.  Bourne is younger and much fitter than Bond has ever been and displays a stunning array of skills.  He is also unafraid to show his vulnerability and lack of certainty.  Matt Damon is great as Bourne – he is unexpectedly buff and impressive in the fight scenes.  His career until Bourne hadn’t included much in the way of action hero roles and it was a surprise to see him take on such a part.  He carried it well though and opened up a new career path, although not one that he has been following blindly.  Franka Potente is very good as Marie, Bourne’s sidekick and love interest.  The character is feisty but doesn’t have quite enough to do for my liking.  She’s little more than arm candy when she could and should have been so much more than that.  Clive Owen broods nicely as The Professor, another CIA assassin sent to take care of Bourne’s mistakes.  He has few lines and is at his best when not speaking.

The action scenes are exciting and fun but also quite realistic in nature.  No massive skydives or flying through the air chasing a runaway plane, everything is much more grounded.  The car chase through the streets of Paris is superb and did get me wondering if the Mini is the best car for a European chase scene, even a battered old banger like Marie’s manages to outfox the Parisian police.  That’s another strength of Bourne.  It isn’t glamourous, there are no tuxedos, dry martinis, aston martins or nights out at the casino.  Bourne lives in a world where people fight dirty, CIA offices look like dull insurance companies and there’s no Q branch to rush to the rescue with zippy and futuristic gadgets.

Does this then make Bourne better than Bond?  Absolutely not.  No matter how ridiculous the Bond films, my loyalty remains with MI6.  They really did get ridiculous, but more of that in an upcoming series.  There’s definitely room for both Bond and Bourne and I’m looking forward to finishing both series over the coming few weeks, and seeing the new additions to both franchises which are coming to our cinemas in 2012.

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