Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #365: The Bourne Identity

One of the few spies to give James Bond a run for his money, Jason Bourne re-shaped Matt Damon’s career and gave the world one of the best action franchises of the last decade. Although more a hyperkinetic assassin than an actual spy, Bourne can slip in and out of a place without getting noticed, disarm a roomful of armed men and walk out of deadly car chases with no more than a slight limp. His adventures have taken him from France to England, from India to Russia and to a (presumably) last stop in New York. The more impressive trait is that he can do all this while suffering from brain damage that has left him with amnesia.

If I recall correctly, I saw the first Bourne adventure, “The Bourne Identity,” while flying somewhere over the Andes. This first chapter, directed by Doug Liman, first came out in 2002 and back then I was living in Santiago, Chile. Every time my parents and I would fly home to Québec it would take approximately ten hours by airplane, so that is a lot of films seen on a tiny screen. Between the jet lag, the bad audio and the initially confusing storyline, it was a little bit difficult to follow the plot. However I eventually got the entire trilogy as a Christmas present, so now everything makes perfect sense.

At first nothing made sense for Bourne when fishermen found his body floating off the coast of France. The ship’s doctor finds no identification on him except for a tiny laser projector surgically implanted in his body. When the man wakes up he has no idea who he is or how he ended up in the water. However, the laser projector gives him a clue: the number of a safe deposit box in Zürich, Germany. Once the ship docks the man with no past sets off to find out his identity.

At the bank, he opens his box to find a passport with the name Jason Bourne. Unfortunately there are several other passports with the same picture, but different names. There is also a large amount of money for different countries and a handgun. Before he leaves the bank, an employee recognizes him and makes a phone call. Soon the police are chasing Bourne to the American consulate and while evading his pursuers, he displays the uncanny ability to both outthink and evade a dozen armed pursuers. After his escape he pays a Swiss woman, Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente), to drive him to Paris, the address on his passport.

Meanwhile, a determined CIA big-shot named Conklin (Chris Cooper) is following Bourne’s every move. Conklin knows everything about Bourne: who he is, what he can do and where he could go. Fearing Bourne has become a threat, he makes it his mission to track him down and kill him. This sets the template for the rest of the movies. You have a person telling a room-full of CIA employees looking at computer screens to track down Bourne while assassins are waiting for their orders to terminate him. What ends up happening instead is Bourne sneaking up behind them and demanding to be left alone so he can piece his mind back together. 

As far as thrillers go, the Bourne movies are some of the best out there. They really hit their peak with the second and third features directed by Paul Greengrass, but Doug Liman deserves credit for kick-starting the series with a great car chase in the streets of Paris. A shootout in the French countryside between Bourne and an assassin played by Clive Owen is also particularly memorable.
During my first year of university I found a worn out copy of the Robert Ludlum book on which the movie is based. There are vast differences as the movie is set during the Cold War and involves the terrorist Carlos the Jackal. Therefore the Damon movies are far from faithful in terms of story, but they definitely capture the spirit of the books. As for Matt Damon, he IS Jason Bourne just like the poster says.


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…