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THE BOURNE IDENTITY ,2002
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THE BOURNE IDENTITY,  MOVIE POSTERTHE BOURNE IDENTITY, 2002
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Directed by Doug Liman
Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox; Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Julia Stiles, Gabriel Mann
Review by Tom Coatsworth


SYNOPSIS:

The crew of a French fishing trawler discovers Jason Bourne near death and floating in the Mediterranean. They nurse him back to life and deliver him to Marseilles. But he has no memory. Following leads to Switzerland and Paris he discovers that he is an American agent, a killing machine gone terribly wrong; and that everyone, including his own government, wants him dead.

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Jason Bourne (Damon) is a man without a memory. Plucked from the sea by fishermen, he travels to Zurich and a bank deposit box – the only clue he has to his own identity. Along route he discovers things about himself. He sleeps in a park overnight and when two policemen roust him he finds he is fluent in their language. A moment later he has knocked them both cold: he has a deep background in martial arts. He feels he is being hunted and instinctively takes evasive action. The following day he goes to the bank; his deposit box is stuffed with cash and fake passports and a gun. He cleans it out and leaves the gun.

We cut to Langley, Virginia and CIA headquarters. Bourne is an agent, an assassin. His mission to kill a deposed African dictator has failed and now his masters want to flush the evidence: Bourne. The plot is not government sanctioned and its author’s Conklin (Cooper) and Abbott (Cox) are in a rush to put a lid on the whole matter. Conklin alerts half a dozen killer agents across Europe and trains them all on Bourne.

Meanwhile Bourne evades the local police and ducks into the American Embassy. He has little time. Before the walls come crashing down he spies a young woman at a counter arguing over a visa. Officers converge on him and he lays out three of them with ease. He makes his escape and finds the girl, Marie (Potente), in an alley beside her beater car. She needs money and he needs a ride to Paris.

The pair becomes an unlikely team: the thirty million dollar malfunctioning terminator and the bohemian waif. Between piecing together his various identities and fighting off assassins there is time for romance. This is no subplot, but a key ingredient to Bourne’s identity. His career as a black-ops agent hinges on his ruthlessness. As his memory comes back he relives the critical moment where it failed him. His humanity is his fatal weakness -- he can’t go back. But it will take a Herculean effort to save himself and Marie from the dark consequences of his past.

Bourne benefits from a hapless, adversary more than once. When Clive Owen’s character trades a hilltop and a high-powered rifle with a scope for a swamp and a pistol you just know that the gods and the screenwriters have stacked the deck against him: he’s a dimwit. Give him another page of script and he might jump into quick sand and brandish a slingshot. Thankfully Bourne dispenses with him before this can happen.

It’s all in good fun: occasional lapses in rationality are paid with simmering action. There is a wonderful car chase through the streets of Paris. The film crackles with handheld energy. Today it has become a byword for a specific style of action film. Its influence is widespread – with ‘Casino Royale’ critics charging that ‘Bond had gone Bourne’. It is fast action, quick cuts and near misses; with just enough gritty realism to keep our allegiance.

There are exhilarating performances from Damon and Potente – we first encountered her fresh presence in the ground breaking ‘Run Lola Run’. (She is sorely missed in the Bourne sequels.) Cox and Cooper make great bad guys. Smart direction and writing; wonderful fight choreography and tight editing...

It’s an action flick. But there is a deeper dialogue running beneath the surface – between Europe and America. Marie takes the edge off the militaristic juggernaut that is Bourne. She humanizes him. As do the French fishermen in the beginning. As do Eamon and his children and the rustic estate Bourne and Marie hide out in. It’s all in stark contrast to the hardwired world of spies and operatives and power and politics. By movies end Bourne has had enough. He turns his back on his past and makes his way toward a new life. In 2002 it was a sentiment that many could identify with.

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