BOURNE AGAIN in 2022? Perhaps after a chaotic 2021, you believe it’s time to upgrade your OS and undergo some kind of IDENTITY shift? Don’t worry, we feel you!
In the meantime…we revisit a classic where director, Doug Liman, redefined the spy film genre with his fourth feature, “The Bourne Identity”. This unique, character-driven action movie carries exhilarating fights, emotional depth, and visual punch!
This first contemporary adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s series of novels follows protagonist Jason Bourne – the U.S. government’s prize assassin suffering from amnesia – as he journeys to remember his identity…
Matt Damon stars as Jason Bourne, a Treadstone secret agent who has forgotten his identity. Already an accomplished actor and writer in such titles as “Good Will Hunting” (1997) and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999), Damon accepted the role after being impressed by the script and director Doug Liman.
Due to the screenplay (written by Tony Gilroy and W. Blake Herron) departing from typical spy and action films, the character of Jason Bourne appealed to him. He was also keen to work with Doug Liman whose background in independent film provided a fresh lens through which the action film genre could be viewed.
Franka Potente appears beside Matt Damon as Marie Kreutz, a German traveller who is strapped for cash and unable to get a visa. Her character is a normal civilian until she meets Jason Bourne.
Potente was already a prominent actress on the European film scene and had starred in action-thriller, “Run Lola Run” (1998) 4 years previously. With the film being set in Europe, Franka brought the European star power that the producers sought for the film.
Chris Cooper plays Alexander Conklin, the operational chief of Treadstone who will stop at nothing to bring his once star operative, Jason Bourne down. Cooper had played similar roles preceding his character in “The Bourne Identity” such as Colonel Fitts in “American Beauty” (1999) and Lieutenant Gerke in “Me, Myself & Irene” (2000).
You get the feeling watching his performance that he is absolutely at home in the military authority figure role, as he carries it off perfectly in the film.
Julia Stiles plays Nicky Parsons, a field operative for Treadstone who provides a more human, empathetic approach to the ruthless pursuit of Bourne.
Having previously starred in “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999) as Kat Stratford, Stiles brings a youthful likeability to an otherwise cold and unforgiving world in “The Bourne Identity”.
Finally, Brian Cox plays Ward Abbott, a corrupt CIA section chief who founded the Treadstone program and gave birth to the enigma that is Jason Bourne.
Cox held a mammoth portfolio of acting credits across both TV and film before joining the cast. One of his most impressive roles was his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in “Manhunter” (1986).
60 miles out from France in the Mediterranean Sea, Jason Bourne washes up on a fishing boat with two bullets in his back and the number for a safety deposit box in Zurich sewn into his hip. However, he doesn’t know who he is.
In Zurich, he finds a gun, several fake passports, and stacks of cash in every currency imaginable. Now he has the world and a team of Treadstone secret agents in hot pursuit of him across Europe.
Along the way, he meets Marie and the two form a formidable bond as Bourne juggles the pursuit of his identity with his newfound affection for his travel companion.
“The Bourne Identity” subverted the typical framework for a shoot-em-up spy film. At the time, action films rarely dug deeper than surface level in their emotional content. However, Jason Bourne displays a refreshing attention to the humanity of the spy.
The Spy Redefined
We witness Bourne fall in love, and sacrifice in the name of human connection rather than patriotism, personal glory, or a mission’s objective. His skills as an assassin are repurposed to protect Marie and leave his past life behind.
This emotive side to the spy arguably paved the way for Daniel Craig’s James Bond. In “Casino Royale” (2006), we saw Bond fall in love which we had never seen happen in the franchise before that point. Jason Bourne was quite revolutionary in turning love interests into love stories for the spy film going forward.
Stunt Doubles? Who Needs Stunt Doubles?
In preparation for the role of Bourne, Matt Damon invested time into martial arts and weapons training. During fight scenes in “The Bourne Identity”, his boxing training is on display and a generous helping of Kali is choreographed into the weapon sequences.
Damon himself wanted to be confident in his abilities in the action scenes for two reasons.
Firstly, he wanted to be in the mindset of a trained fighter so that the minute details of how Bourne throws a punch or reloads his weapon are ingrained in him, giving the best chance of delivering a believable performance.
The second reason was more practical; Damon wanted to complete as many scenes as possible without a stunt double as this would give the director more freedom to include action shots that showed his face.
Very much in the spirit of Bruce Lee’s filmmaking philosophies, “The Bourne Identity” prioritised actors who were skilled martial artists to maintain the realism that stunt doubles can jeopardise.
As Bourne Searches for His Identity so do We…
From the moment we meet Bourne drifting in the Mediterranean Sea, we embark on the same journey that he does: to find out his identity. As the audience, we are given access to only slightly more information than the protagonist himself.
This makes for an intimate experience as we shadow Bourne throughout his trials as we unravel the mystery in real time with him.
“The Bourne Identity” utilises this more than any other film in the series – perhaps on purpose as these are our first introductions – we needed to get to know him intimately and get onside.
Later in the series, we are privy to much more information than Bourne but for a first meet, the film immerses us in walking side by side with him.
“The Bourne Identity” presents a character so intelligent and resourceful, you can’t help but root for him. The film throws aside the suave, smooth-talking one-liner superspy for a richly human protagonist experiencing a crisis of identity.
The dynamic between Marie and Bourne taps into a dry, situational humour that offers moments of reprieve from the worldwide manhunt taking place.
Drawing upon martial arts from all over the globe from Kali to western boxing to Jeet Kune Do gives the film its international feel to accompany its transatlantic cast and set.
Overall, it is a film that broke the mould of a genre and redefined it for the modern day.
- “It gets slightly complicated though.” – Bourne
- “Because you’re dead.” – Marie (in reply.)
- “Right.” – Bourne (in reply.)
- “You’re U.S. government property! You’re a malfunctioning $30 million weapon! You’re a total goddamn catastrophe!” – Alexander Conklin
- “Look at what they make you give…” – Professor
- When Bourne scaled the American embassy in Zurich, Neil Bentley acted as his stunt double for the most difficult parts and taught Matt Damon how to complete the easier sections himself. Bentley was the manager of a climbing centre in Sheffield, England at the time and a world-class rock climber. However, he’s now a science teacher.
- Matt Damon climbed the last 30ft of the Zurich climbing scene himself.
- “The Bourne Identity” is the only film in the whole series that kept elements of the novel’s original plot. All other films were completely original screenplays and only used the titles from the novels.
- The film was supposed to be released in June 2001, but director Doug Liman ordered numerous reshoots including the car chase in the middle of the film – this was originally not featured in the film.
- Matt Damon was trained for the role by Jeff Imada, a Kali and Jeet Kune Do expert.