Growing up my dad and I watched tons of James Bond films. Tons. We had the vast majority of them on DVD or VHS, and if we didn’t have them Ted Turner’s channels seem to have quite the affinity for showing them on Saturdays and Sundays. We also watched every bit of ALIAS (ABC show, starring Jennifer Garner, circa 2001-2006), so spy-stories were something of a specialty of ours. When we saw a preview for The Bourne Identity, we knew where we would be on June 14, 2002.
When The Bourne Identity hit the theaters, the game changed for me. I had never seen a hard-boiled spy movie quite like it, and neither had much of the rest of the world. Anchored by Matt Damon’s hall of fame acting chops, this movie would go on to become a bit of a touchstone for spy movies in the years to come, but at the ripe age of 11, I had no idea. It would go on to have a few sequels, all with varying amounts of above-average quality, but it also spawned a renewed interest in spy films.
Brosnan’s run on Bond would be ending in November of 2002, and in his wake, a 4-year-gap in the series. During this time, the Bourne movies became our replacement. Although the films had quite a different visual aesthetic from other action films of its time it was appealing to audiences worldwide, grossing more than 200 million by the end of its run. We were hooked, and it was well deserved.
For the world at large, spy films prod at our intrigue into a world most of us will never be introduced. I don’t remember a news article talking about how a spy from ____ country had killed a leader from _____ country, but I’m sure it has happened, and there is why we enjoy these films. No, not because we’re all just wanting to watch fight scenes, although those are enjoyable. But because these films build a world nearly as fantastical and imaginary to us as The Lord of the Rings. They offer a space that often tells stories of redemption, restoration and even hope, in a world that is falling apart due to some grand and evil scheme, and everyone can get behind that. We know there’s a grand and evil scheme, and we know who’s supposed to win: the good guys. And in spy films, they do.
If you’ve never seen it, The Bourne Identity tells the story of amnesiac spy seeking to find who he is and what was he doing that led him to wake up with bullets in his back, on a fishing-ship, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. In his search, he meets a German woman, Marie Kreutz, who helps him escape from a bank he was at, looking for clues. She accompanies him on his hunt, even aiding at times in procuring information and continuing to help him evade the authorities out to get him.
In the end, he discovers some of his origin, leading him back to a CIA black ops program. He hunts them down, hoping to discover all he can about his past and story. Despite their attempts to capture him, the black op and it’s leaders are unable to do so, and he escapes, telling them that he is quitting is not to be followed.
Yea. That’s about it. I mean, I didn’t describe it super well, but really, the movie was not much. But for some reason, as a kid, it was amazing. Even now, upon many further viewings, this movie has a lot for me. It’s action is suspenseful in all the right ways. A few jump scares, somewhat of a shootout, a great stairwell fight scene, but none of these things are cliché’ in the film. When you would expect something of a Home Alone, get-rid-of-the-bad-guy-trying-to-get-into-our-house scene, you get a short scene with, like 3 shots fired.
The film is almost indie in its cinematography, with slightly grainy shots and shaky-cam fight scenes. It borders on unpolished, but walks this line with such poise and grace. Damon and Franka Potente’s (Marie) chemistry is awkward, but to the betterment of the film. The Bourne Identity tells a fluid and refined story, wrapped in the appearance of a low-budget action film. I think it probably reminded some audiences of slow burning spy flicks like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, but did so by entertaining us with many of the same things they had come to expect from Ian Fleming’s captivating stories.
It’s one of my favorites, hands down, and although I don’t think it’s quite as critically appealing as the third in the series (The Bourne Ultimatum), it’s the origin story and it’s worth your time. The Bourne Identity gives you a glimpse inside the door, leaving you with an ending that could’ve made this a one-off film if audiences hadn’t flocked to see it, but give the others in the series a shot and you’ll see how deep the rabbit hole goes. So, whether you’re planning to see the summer’s hit (I hope) in Jason Bourne, this Friday, you should definitely give this film and it’s predecessors a bit of your time in the coming weeks.