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The Bourne Identity (2002)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Clive Owen, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles

Written By: Tony Gilroy, William Blake Herron, Robert Ludlum (novel)

Directed By: Doug Liman

The Shot

The Bourne Identity is one of those rare movies that turns out to be much better than the book.  Action abounds, but intrigue is the focus, and the result is a film that demands to be added to the permanent home library.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Stored in a Swiss bank vault, of course.

Pairs Well With...


Because Europe-based Jason Bourne is definitely a beer guy, and I’m just not picturing Heineken.

Weet je wie ik ben?  Hou dan godverdomme op met dat gezeik en zeg het me.


Once upon a time, novelist Robert Ludlum decided that literature needed an American answer to Ian Fleming’s Ja___ Bo__, so he wrote a book called “The Bourne Identity” about a totally different guy named Ja___ Bo____.  It sold a zillion copies, and spawned a series that Ludlum was able to make a career out of before eventually turning the literary reins over to Eric Van Lustbader.

But when the time came to adapt “The Bourne Identity” for the big screen (as opposed to the small one, for which it had gotten a turn in 1988), director Doug Liman gave his screenwriter explicit instructions not to read a word of it, instead providing his own loosely adapted outline to work from.

Personally, I think he made the right choice, because The Bourne Identity is one of those rare movies that turns out to be much better than the book.

Taking a few steps away from the source material isn’t the only way in which Liman and company color outside the lines.  Rather than going for the high octane, explosive action approach a-la the movies featuring that other Ja___ Bo__, The Bourne Identity presents a more Old World atmosphere.  The action is still there – in spades (Bourne scales buildings without a second thought and drives himself a mean commuter car) – and the pacing is there, but the heavy overproduction of those sequences is not, and the brash music is not (this may or may not be due to a composer switch halfway through scoring).  Indeed, the best word I can think of to describe the effect is “muted”… and it works.  It forces the audience to pay more attention to Jason Bourne as a character, an approach that’s especially effective here because as an amnesiac, he’s trying to discover himself at the same time the audience is.  It also brings a little extra veritas to the convoluted plot that wouldn’t necessarily be there had everything played under a canopy of bombastic pyrotechnics to the tune of heavy brass.

Assassination and espionage played as actual intrigue; who’d have thought it, right? 

It helps that Matt Damon was given the nod to play Jason Bourne.  His combination of star power and everyman likability get him in the door, and his physical presence carries him through the action sequences, but most importantly of all his genuine acting talent sees him through the drama that is in fact the heart and soul of The Bourne Identity.  He brings humanity to a character that’s had already his humanity stripped from him twice: once by amnesia, and once by the stuff he’s forgotten about.  The pressure to simply play to archetype and call it a day must surely have been immense, but Damon doesn’t bite; he goes for the depth, and the audience gets the reward.

Indeed, one could says that two audiences are rewarded, since after imploding with Die Another Day later the same year that The Bourne Identity hit the screen, the powers behind the James Bond franchise would go on the hit the full reboot switch and borrow heavily from the approach taken by this film when reinventing 007.  (If it hadn’t occurred to you before, have a look at this flick and then watch Mr. Craig’s debut.  Yes, the latter picture is more bombastic, but the lessons in tone and character that it takes from this picture couldn’t be clearer.)

I remember very well the evening I first went to see The Bourne Identity – opening night, of course.  It was the last theatrical film I would see before moving away from Vancouver, and having barely made it through what I considered to be its highly disappointing source novel, I was afraid that that final experience would be sullied by a highly disappointing movie.  Walking out of the theatre a couple of hours later, I was very glad to learn that my concerns were unfounded, and that indeed The Bourne Identity had turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises I’d ever had with a theatrical release film.

Now, almost a decade and a half later, I’m very glad to see that the luster hasn’t faded and that I had not in fact let nostalgia color my memory, for The Bourne Identity still stands up as an outstanding tale of assassination and intrigue, and well worth an easy-to-reach place in the permanent home collection.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2016

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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