R038 The Bourne Identity

(2002, Action-Spies, color)


Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett

You’re listening to the mellow sound of European existential dread.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

An amnesiac assassin goes on the run.


Starring the squarest head in Hollywood.A fishing boat pulls a nameless man (Matt Damon) from the water. The ship’s doctor pulls two bullets and a tiny laser projector from his backside. The bullets are discarded, but the projector provides the name of a bank and an account number.

Unable to remember anything on his own, the man travels to a bank in Switzerland to see what the account number tells him. The bank employees direct him upstairs to a vault where he is given a safe deposit box full of money, passports, and a gun. The man adopts the name he finds printed on the passport on top—Jason Bourne.

Bourne sees that he has police pursuit. (He reflexively defended himself when a pair of Swiss cops tried to arrest him for vagrancy the night before, discovering himself to be martial arts expert.) He manages to make the safety of the U.S. embassy before the cops can arrest him. The cops communicate with the embassy guards, and soon the guards are after him as well. Bourne beats them up too, and escapes via the roof before the building can fill with marines. He meets a German girl named Maria at the curb and offers her $20k to drive him to Paris.

They exchange their life stories during the drive, though Bourne’s is much shorter since he can’t remember anything before his fishing boat recovery. They reach Paris and visit an address that his passport identifies as his apartment. Maria cleans up in the bathroom while Bourne hits redial on his phone; he finds that he had been booked into a hotel under another of his passport names.

An assassin with a machine gun bursts in. Bourne defeats him with a ballpoint pen and presses him for details about who he (the assassin) is and who he (Bourne) is. In the meantime, Maria searches the assassin’s satchel to find security photos of herself from inside the American embassy. She freaks out. While Bourne attempts to calm her down, the assassin leaps from the window to his death.

Bourne drags the semi-catatonic Maria back to her car and drives away. She finally calms down, and Bourne tries to get her to run away and go to the police. She refuses, and they go on the run together. One long-ish police chase later, they break into a disused hotel to disguise themselves and make love.

Testing a smooth, clean shave.At Bourne’s request, Maria visits the hotel where he had stayed under another alias to get his billing and phone records. Bourne uses these records to discover that he was researching luxury boats: in particular, the luxury boat of an exiled African dictator. Meanwhile, Maria discovers that the identity they’re researching is dead, and supposedly has a body in the local morgue.

By the time they arrive at the morgue, the body has been removed. Bourne steals the sign-in sheets to discover that the dictator had visited the body. With this information, plus several newspapers from around the time of the body’s discovery, Bourne divines that he is an assassin who failed to kill this former dictator as ordered. The police discover his hideout, and he and Maria are forced to flee again.

Bourne has finally convinced Maria to leave him, so he goes to drop her off at one of her former friends’ houses. The friend is there with his children and is displeased to see them, but offers them shelter for the night regardless. Meanwhile, Bourne’s former employers track him down. He sends Maria to flee with her friend while he kills the assassin sent to eliminate them.

The assassin mutters something about an organization called Treadstone before he expires. Bourne uses the assassin’s equipment to arrange a meeting with his former Treadstone employers. His ex-boss shows up with an escort, so Bourne plants a tracking device on the van and calls the meeting off. He follows them back to their Paris base and breaks in to demand answers. His ex-boss tells him he is a CIA assassin who failed his mission. Bourne remembers that he refused to kill the ex-dictator because he was sleeping next to his children on the boat at the time. Bourne warns them to leave him alone and kills several more operatives during his escape. The last surviving Treadstone assassin kills the Treadstone boss at the CIA’s insistence, effectively terminating the Treadstone program.

Bourne tracks Maria to Greece, and they have a tender reunion.


I'm conflicted on the issue of my deadliness.Spoiler warning! Jason Bourne is actually a CIA assassin. Further spoiler warning!! He lost his memory because he is a basically good person who snapped under the immorality of his profession. Even more spoilers follow!!! The people hunting him are CIA assassins who don’t want him to blab their illegal methodology to the world.

Actually, due to the obvious nature of the above, I hesitate to label them as spoilers. Of course he’s an assassin. Of course he’s a nice guy. Of course his former bosses want to silence him. This is all heavily implied within the first twenty minutes of the film, and is never contradicted. The Bourne Identity is not about plot twists or surprising revelations. It is about the character of Bourne, who reacts realistically to these contrived situations with competence but also with dread. It’s about set-piece action sequences that are, well, not exactly realistic, but consist of realistic events strung together in an improbable manner. These things set the film apart from other modern spy flicks; Bourne’s Bond-ish counterparts do physically impossible things because they are made of sexually inexhaustible bulletproof rubber, never allowing us to become afraid for their well-being. The Bourne Identity’s more realistic elements ramp the tension up much higher, endowing the film with more actual, heftable weight.

Of course Mike, Bill, and Kevin make fun of it anyway. Included are many, many Europe-bashing jokes, including Kevin’s comment, “He’d blend in better with a little hat and a sense of sullen alienation.” Mike comments on Bourne’s relatively mundane escape from the embassy by saying, “I’m a little disappointed he’s not leaping to escape a huge fireball.” When Maria presses Bourne for memories, Bill exclaims, “I strongly suspect I’m Latin songstress Shakira, okay?” Also included are numerous comments about the rectangular shape of Matt Damon’s head, and near the end two of the commenters deliver synchronized slaps every time the other attempts a pun. It’s already an entertaining film, and the commentary serves to make it more so.