The Bourne Identity (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A creaky fishing scow is bruited about by a Mediterranean storm. As a crewmember battens down, he spies an unfamiliar object in the water. It's a man. He's alive, but just barely, with bullet holes in his back. As the ship's ad hoc medic removes the bullets, he also finds an unusual object embedded in the man's hip, and removes that as well. It turns out to be a tiny electronic device which projects a single word slide, the contents of which seem to be the number for a secret Swiss bank account.

The victim himself is capable of providing no information. He has amnesia.

When the victim recovers enough to leave the ship, he heads to Switzerland to examine the contents of his safety deposit box, hoping at that point only to determine his own identity. What he finds is disturbing. The box contains a small fortune in various currencies, a handgun, and enough passports to evacuate the entire population of Uzbekistan. He finds out that he can speak many European languages fluently. All of the passports are his. He is obviously involved in international crime or espionage. But is he a good guy, or a bad guy, and who does he really work for? The unidentified man (Matt Damon) is unknown to himself, but plenty of other people seem to know who he is, and they seem to want him dead. Are they the same people who dumped his bullet-riddled body in the Mediterranean, or are they pursuing him because of something else?

He bribes a complete stranger (Franka Potente) to give him a ride to Paris in a simple car, and the chase is on.

Run, Lola, Run Again, this time with Matt Damon beside you.

That is the overlay for an international mystery story that finds a way to get new mileage out of the badly dated works of Robert Ludlum, the master of escapist cold war espionage fiction.



The film has some excellent production values, some great action scenes, and some excellent tension in the plot. More important, it manages to salvage the outdated premise by gradually allowing Damon to realize what he used to be - and eventually, given the nature of the tabula rasa granted by his amnesia, to view it with fresh eyes. We never see if "Matt Bourne" used to be happy in his former life, but we see that he doesn't want to go back to it, even after he realizes just how well he was suited for it. Ultimately, what makes the film really engaging is the triple mystery which he must solve because of his amnesia, and which we solve along with him: (1) just who the hell, and what the hell, is Matt Bourne? (2) how can he escape from all the people who seem to want him dead, when he doesn't know who they are or why they want to kill him (3) after he figures out who he is, assuming he can figure out a way to stop running, how will he continue his life post-amnesia?

They did an excellent job with this movie. It captures the loneliness of Bourne's life with the details of his sparsely-appointed flat and in the perfectly appropriate atmosphere of wintry Europe. In all regards that come to mind, the film is exceptionally well executed for its genre. For example, although I hate car chases, I found this movie's car chase through Paris to be both emotionally engaging and fun to watch, because of the sheer ingenuity employed, and the film's ability to make the audience empathize with Bourne. Given the depth of characterization from the script and the lead actors, the excellent production values, the solid action scenes, and the mystery overlay, I think this movie will appeal even to people who are not inclined to watch gimmicky movies about international espionage. It is an excellent example of how even the most exhausted genre can be revivified with imagination and Úlan.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Exclusive Alternate Ending

  • Explosive Deleted Scenes

  • The Making of The Bourne Identity

  • Feature Commentary with Director Doug Liman

  • Extreme Ways Music Video by Moby

One strange bit of casting: the head of CIA's Paris bureau is played by Julia Stiles. Perhaps Carrot-top runs the Beijing bureau? Jason Biggs in Tel Aviv? Hey kids - here's a nifty summer job in between sophomore and junior years - forget about flippin' those burgers at McDonald's and try the wacky, life-endangering CIA. In most cases, I overlook these types of casting decisions, but in this case, the premise was so faulty that it was misleading. I kept thinking "ok, she can't really be CIA's top operative in Paris, even for a rogue operation, so just who is she?". This casting, in effect, generated a red herring not planned in the script.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, 3.5/5.


The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: as I write this, it has grossed $54 million, on a $75 million budget. It will be a moderate hit, but will not equal the $150 million they hoped for.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. Excellent escapist fare.

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