Film: The Bourne Identity (2002)
Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Clive Owen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Julia Stiles
Director: Doug Liman
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars
(Spoilers Ahead) The film starts with one of the oldest tropes in action movies, the man lost without an identity. Here it's Damon's Jason Bourne, a deadly assassin that is ready for anything that people throw at him, except he doesn't know why he's randomly been found floating in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The first thirty minutes, quite frankly, are kind of ridiculous and the plot is relatively easy to follow. Because the film doesn't seem to have been made with a clear sequel in mind, we get an interestingly loose script, one that allows for a lot of hanging plots but they kind of work. Action movies usually suffer when they explain too much (this is actually true of almost all movies-mystery is an asset that they have a firmer grasp upon than television), and the reasons for his assassin program, and his entire history are largely forgotten in the film. Had the movie never had sequels that I'm guessing will basically explain an origin story, Jason Bourne would have been a character that just sort of existed in an obsessive fanfictionable bubble, like Hannibal Lecter or the Wicked Witch of the West. Not a bad way to go.
Of course Bourne eventually created a much larger franchise so I suspect the latter movies will burst that bubble, but this sort of translucent approach to the plot actually helps the story quite a bit, and keeps you guessing. The central love story is fascinating primarily because of a key casting choice, putting Franka Potente in the lead instead of Julia Stiles. Potente, most famous for her work in Run Lola Run, is a fun and earthy actress, someone who seems genuinely lost in her life and I liked the organic feel of her performance, but the laws of Hollywood clearly would have dictated that Stiles, then a true movie star, would have gotten the lead; after all, she'd headlined two mid-level hits and is blonde/American. The fact that her character just sort of is there, keeping us completely on our toes, works in a way I wasn't expecting. The performance isn't good, it's barely existent, but it's a red herring that actually threw me off in the movie, and that's rare in cinema after all of these years.
It's these sorts of touches that elevate what is essentially a pretty basic action story. Damon is great and charming and sexy, but he's always great and charming and sexy, and he's better at movie star roles than serious acting like Invictus. I loved the sort of random creations that exist on the sidelines like Clive Owen's assassin or Brian Cox's high-level diplomat who is over his head. The film runs on cliche and predictability, but it has personality and occasionally knows that it needs to veer just a little bit left instead of right to keep us guessing. All-in-all it's not a masterpiece, but it's definitely a movie you come back to for the sequel.
And those are my thoughts on The Bourne Identity, the first of three Bourne reviews I will be sending your way in the next two weeks. What are your thoughts on this film? Are you a fan of Matt Damon (and not just for the stirrings)? Am I in for a treat as the series progresses? Share your thoughts in the comments!