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 - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…