You wake up on a fishing boat with bullets in your back, a bank account number sewed into your back, and no memory of who you are. You can tell you’re American, but then, you realize that you speak several languages. When in danger, you suddenly exhibit stunning martial arts skills. You have a natural tendency to survey an entire room full of people with a glance. All you know is that someone extremely powerful is trying to kill you, but you don’t know who, and you don’t know why. This is the dilemma Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) faces in The Bourne Identity, the latest from director Doug Liman (Swingers, Go).
For an action/suspense thriller, this movie gets almost everything right. First, you’ve got your fight scenes. There was some degree of extra excitement added to the earlier ones of these, as you notice Jason’s initial surprise at his ability to block attacks, knock out his assailants, and reflexively hold a gun over their heads for a few seconds in case they try any funny stuff. Aside from that, you’ve got your high-caliber car chase, your European locales, your high-tech nemesis (the CIA), and your beautiful girl (Marie, played by Franka Potente). And while there really isn’t all that much to be revealed about Jason’s identity–it can all be summed up in one sentence–they do a good job of letting it gradually unfold and keeping the audience in suspense.
Character development starts out kind of strong, even though it really weakens at the end. Jason wonders why he has a natural tendency to spot out everyone in a room packing heat; Marie stands in shock, watching a brawl, having no idea what to do, and later vomits at what she sees. In fact, the only hindrances to the action are the parts with the bumbling CIA. A lot of the CIA stuff doesn’t make sense. First and foremost, why they feel the need to kill Jason in the first place is never quite clear. We are treated to shots in the European apartment of some random blond CIA operative, played by Julia Stiles. Housed in her apartment are mountains of high-tech gear and gadgetry, that serves no apparent purpose other than forwarding intelligence to and from the agents in Europe and the Washington headquarters, as if she had a much greater intended purpose that was mostly cut.
As for lasting value, The Bourne Identity is quite lacking in substance. No values are questioned, no greater ideas are embodied, and no point comes out of it all. But then, I didn’t really care. It was a well-made action movie that doesn’t need to throw stuff in your face to be exciting. Will it leave much with you? Probably not. Will this matter? Nope.