Released in 2002 and starring Matt Damon in what was then an uncharacteristic action role, "The Bourne Identity" breathed life into the then tired action-spy genre. It replaced all that was bad about the genre such as the cheesy dialogue and over the top action sequences as well as the lack of realism and replaced them with a well though out storyline, dialogue which was clever, action which was explosive yet realistic and a stronger grip on reality that made "The Bourne Identity" a much more believable yet exciting movie than what was being made back them. Although adapted from a Robert Ludlum novel, "The Bourne Identity" is not really an adaptation rather than it took the themes and worked them into something brilliantly fresh and entertaining, unlike the 1988 version which starred Richard Chamberlain.
When a group of fishermen drag a barely alive body out of the sea, the man with two bullet holes in his back doesn't remember anything not even his name. But slowly he starts to remember little details and discovers that his name is Jason Bourne (Matt Damon - Ocean's Eleven) and he's no ordinary person as he has a series of fake passports, a stash of cash and a gun. Having talked a needy young woman, Marie (Franka Potente) into driving him across country, together they set about discovering who he is and more importantly what he does. But elsewhere a government agency are equally interested in Jason and are not so happy that he is alive.
"The Bourne Identity" is a brilliant, blockbuster of a movie which delivers a thoroughly well thought out storyline that like any good thriller slowly unravels, building layer upon layer of storyline letting us gain a little bit more knowledge whilst arousing are curiosity to learn more. We're introduced to the main character, Jason Bourne, floating in the sea, nearly dead with two bullet holes in his back and then slowly bit by bit a picture is painted of this man who doesn't even know his name let alone what he does. It's clever and as each bit is revealed, be it an ability to speak various languages, tie naval knots in rope, or disarm a policeman it just makes us more intrigued into who this man is and why the government are concerned about him.
What's even more spectacular is that the storyline is realistic but still exciting. There is nothing really outrageous about the story, in fact it is very solid with very few questions left unanswered. Yet it still manages to capture your imagination without the use of huge contrivances to try and ramp up the intrigue. It throws twists at you but not in a way that they bring doubt to your mind about the storyline, but enhances it making it change track just enough to keep you engrossed.
A lot of the excitement when it comes to the "The Bourne Identity" is from the brilliant action which again lives in the real world rather than the over the top nonsense which filled movies such as "James Bond". Unlike other movies when Bourne ends up in a fight it feels almost raw as if it is a street brawl between two trained fighters rather than feeling fake and overly choreographed. It is thanks to the close up camera shots that makes you feel like you are in the midst of the action feeling each punch and kick. Plus again unlike other movies, when Bourne gets hurt he remains hurt, cuts bruises and aches remain and become part of the character rather than disappearing in some sort of super human way. Adding to this is the non violent action, such as the scene where Bourne escapes from the guards in the embassy, the fact that he rips a map off of the wall so he knows where he is going gives the scene a more believable feel.
What has to be one of the most surprising things about "The Bourne Identity" is the choice of Matt Damon to play the action hero Jason Bourne, not someone who you would have necessarily picked for such a role prior to the movie. But Damon is brilliant, bringing something new to the action hero genre; I hate to say it again but a sort of realism. The character of Jason Bourne is intriguing due to his amnesia and Damon plays it brilliantly, delivering intensity through out but also a few lighter moments to make his character multi faceted. But it is in the action sequences where Damon delivers the biggest shock, his delivery is perfect whether it is the blink of an eye disarming of a policeman or the bigger fight and chase scenes there is little to criticise him for.
Opposite Damon is Franka Potente who plays another brilliant character that of being Marie. What makes the character so good is that it is not the weak female side kick which usually ends up in these sorts of movies. Marie is a strong minded character yet also vulnerable and confused as she is thrown from one unexpected situation to the next and Potente really delivers being sensitive yet forceful when needed. The pairing of Damon and Potente works brilliantly both delivering characters against type which makes it unpredictable.
Whilst Damon and Potente deliver the action Chris Cooper as Conklin the head of a government special agency and Brian Cox as his boss Ward Abbott deliver equally good performances. Both characters are just as intriguing and just as crooked as a bunch of expenses fiddling politicians delivering enough depth two each character to stop them just being 2 dimensional caricatures. In fact the intensity which Chris Copper delivers as Conklin is another reason why "The Bourne Identity" is such a good movie.
There are issues though and that is the casting of the delightful Julia Stiles as Nicolette who works for the agency. Now I like Stiles but here she is just a little too wet and unconvincing as an agent even one which spends most of the time behind a desk.
What it all boils down to is that "The Bourne Identity" is a brilliant movie which breathes life into a genre which has all too often suffered thanks to cheesy dialogue and unrealistic action. Matt Damon is brilliant as Jason Bourne and the storyline which is layered with closely knit intrigue is engrossing from start to finish as are the action sequences which are stunning yet realistic.