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Movie Review | The Bourne Identity

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) pays Marie (Franka Potente) to drive him to Paris in The Bourne Identity

Movie summary: A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and suffering from amnesia, before racing to elude assassins and attempting to regain his memory. (IMDb)

I hadn't seen The Bourne Identity in years before watching it again for this review and it did surprise me just how much time had coloured my memory of the movie. I remembered it as a non-stop action movie filled with enough shaky-cam to make you dizzy, but was pleasantly surprised by how untrue that turned out to be.

To start with, the movie begins at a very sedate pace with Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) being fished out of the Mediterranean and figuring out where to go. It's only when he reaches Zurich that the action begins to creep more into events, but there are still lengthy stretches between the action to break things up and help the audience get to know the characters.

And I have to say that Damon is great as Bourne, although his knack for playing highly-competent individuals that audiences can still relate to was proven later in The Martian to not be a role-specific thing. The key aspect that makes Bourne work as a character is how vulnerable Damon plays him - the guy may have borderline super-soldier skills, but his memory loss means that all he has to cling on to while being pursued from halfway around the world by Treadstone.

Unfortunately, Treadstone - a covert kill squad created by the CIA - are the weakest element of the movie, despite Chris Cooper and Brian Cox's skills as actors. They're great to watch, but we're never really given anything to know about them as people in their own right other than the fact that they're after Bourne as a rogue agent. Even the other operatives sent after Bourne have little other identity than 'assassin'.

Fortunately, Damon is given ample support in the form of Franka Potente, who plays Marie. She's unquestionably the human heart of The Bourne Identity, with an ever-shifting relationship to Bourne that starts with her as a hired driver and eventually becoming much, much more important to him, just as Marie is to Bourne.

Damon and Potente have great chemistry together, making every scene they share enjoyable to watch despite their contrasting natures meaning they're both trying to keep up with each other constantly. The highlight is a moment when Bourne sets out an elaborate, step-by-step plan for Marie to retrieve some information, but she simply asks for and gets it, impressing Bourne in the process.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is ready for action in The Bourne Identity

As for the action, The Bourne Identity was criticised by many at the time for what became known as 'shaky-cam', with many believing it made the action harder to follow. It shows how much filming action scenes has changed, as it didn't stand out in the slightest on this latest re-watch. I kept waiting to be disoriented, but everything was kept clear and easy to follow - which is good when someone is as decisive in dangerous situations as Jason Bourne.

There's a great escape sequence from a US consulate; a brilliant fight in Paris involving a pen way before John Wick made fighting with stationery cool; a Parisian car chase to stand alongside Ronin and Mission: Impossible - Fallout, which is just as much fun to watch as those in the latter two movies; and an excellent shotgun vs sniper rifle face-off with another assassin - there's plenty of quality when the pace does step up.

All the above makes the final shootout more than a bit disappointing, especially as it comes straight after some revelatory memories resurface for Bourne. I don't know whether there were struggles to get it to fit, or even if another action sequence was demanded by the studio, but it does deflate you a little when compared to the action earlier on.

A comparatively weak climax is certainly not enough to ruin The Bourne Identity, which would still be a great action movie if released today. It's obviously dated in some aspects - it is almost 20 years old now! - but the excellent character work in the slower scenes give the movie substance, while also meaning the action feels more hard-hitting in contrast. If you haven't seen this movie yet, you really should.

The Bourne Identity remains a great action-thriller, with a stronger focus on character than you'd expect from a movie about an amnesiac super-assassin. The notorious sentiment regarding 'shaky-cam' also doesn't really hold up either, with so many movies being shot in a similar way since that it never gets in the way of the story being told here and you can just enjoy the movie.


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