Children of Bond - The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity is a 2002 action-thriller film based on Robert Ludlum's 1980 novel. It was directed by Doug Liman. This story had previously been done as a miniseries with Richard Chamberlain as Bourne. I gather that the writer of this 2002 film didn't even bother to read the novel - so it probably wasn't the most slavish adapatation. It was more the concept of The Bourne Identity that the makers of this film liked. They wanted to do their own thing with that concept - as opposed to a strict translation of the book.
The film begins with Italian fishermen rescuing a man who is floating inert in the Mediterranean Sea. The man turns out to be American but he is suffering from amnesia and has no idea who he is. A laser projector found upon him gives the number of a safe deposit box in Zürich so the amnesiac man decides to travel there and investigate. The safety deposit box reveals money in various currencies, numerous passports with different names, and a gun. He decides to take the passport bearing the name Jason Bourne. Our amnesiac hero is still pretty confused - although that safety deposit box probably should have tipped him off to the fact that he might be a spy!
Bourne enlists the help of a young woman named Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente) as he seeks to find out who he really is. It transpires that Bourne is a product of Treadstone - a black ops project intended to train and deploy elite assassins. This would explain why Bourne is a martial arts expert who can drive like James Hunt and handle a gun like Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti Western. Bourne's troubles have only just begun though because Treadstone have become aware of his existence. Bourne had failed in an assassination attempt against an exiled African dictator and Treadstone now plan to terminate him. To this end they activate a number of assassins to kill him.
The Bourne Identity (and its first sequel) were patently the biggest influences on the reboot of the James Bond series that arrived in 2006. Bourne is a very different character from Bond. He is not prone to quips or seducing women and doesn't have much of a taste for the high life. He's a bit of a blank to be honest. James Bond is a loyal servant of Her Majesty (which will obviously have to be changed to HIS Majesty going forward) and a blunt instrument for his government. Bourne, by contrast, has no loyalty to the establishment and operates as a lone wolf. Bourne doesn't trust his own government - and for good reason because their covert agencies are usually trying to kill him.
The government spy racket is murky, corrupt, and dangerous in the Bourne films. The good thing about The Bourne Identity though is that it doesn't hammer you over the head with this theme. It simply uses this premise as the basis to deliver a satisfying and sleek action film. What really got the attention of EON back in 2002 was that The Bourne Identity cost $80 million less to make than Die Another Day but turned out to be a lot more exciting and coherent.
Die Another Day has two luxury gadget laden cars firing missiles at each other in a winter wonderland. The Bourne Identity on the other hand has Matt Damon driving a battered Mini Cooper through the streets of Europe being chased by the police. The car chase in The Bourne Identity cost considerably less money than the one in Die Another Day but guess which one of these car chases is the most fun? It's no competition. The car chase in The Bourne Identity is fantastic and has not a gadget in sight.
The Bourne Identity showed that you could strip away the CGI and outlandish trappings but still make a terrific spy thriller. The film also put us at the heart of the action much more than Bond movies had done of late with hand held-cameras and tightly shot fight scenes. The fight scenes in The Bourne Identity are enjoyably violent and superbly staged. They were a huge influence on the violent close quarter fights we got in Casino Royale.
Now, not to say that Bourne wasn't partly inspired by Bond in the first place. The Bond series hasn't been short of good tough fight scenes. Sean Connery's 007 had memorable scraps with Red Grant and Peter Franks. Bond's fight with 006 in GoldenEye was pretty good too. The Bourne Identity also takes inspiration from classic Bond films in the way that Bourne has to use his wits to get out of dangerous and tricky situations. Bourne slowly being cornered from all sides at the Embassy is somewhat reminscent of the way that Bond in OHMSS constantly finds himself surrounded by baddies in the snow frosted town just before Tracey turns up again.

One thing that helps The Bourne Identity too, and it is something which a lot of modern Bond films seem to lack, is that Matt Damon has a nice believable sort of chemistry with his leading lady Franka Potente. Potente is obviously not supposed to be anything like a Bond Girl because Marie is just an ordinary bystander who ends up helping Bourne. Even so, The Bourne Identity shows that you don't neccessarily need to cast the FHM model of the month as the female lead if you make a spy thriller.
The Bourne Identity is not as much fun as the very best Bond films of yesteryear and has quite a sullen, even bleak sort of noir atmosphere (humour is thin on the ground) but the locations are authentic and the action delivers. The music is terrific too. There's a good cast here with actors like Julia Stiles and also Clive Owen as a hitman sent to kill Bourne. Brian Cox is the dodgy CIA boss and deploys that same American accent he seems to do in everything. One of the good things about the film is you end up rooting for Bourne because he's quite vulnerable as far as action heroes go. He's on his own and often has no idea what is going on.
Matt Damon (who only got the part because big names like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise turned it down) makes a surprisingly good action hero here. Bourne isn't a muscle bound lunk jumping off cranes or equipped with ingenious gadgets. He's just someone who has been expertly trained to be a deadly assassin. This makes the character feel much more realistic than Bond. The emergence of the Bourne films was a double-edged sword as far as the Bond franchise goes. The Daniel Craig era used the influence of Bourne to its advantage with the success of Casino Royale but then to its disadvantage in Quantum of Solace.
Quantum of Solace was influenced by the Paul Greengrass directed Bourne sequel. Greengrass is notorious for his particular camera style. This is best described as shakycam.
After a couple more films of this the obstreperous ADD camera antics of Greengrass got a bit tiresome and old. The success of The Bourne Supremacy was the catalyst for the preposterous editing style of Quantum of Solace. The lesson was simple. Bond benefits from some of the leaner, tougher action of Bourne but should definitely not try to copy the editing style of Paul Greengrass. It just doesn't suit Bond at all.
- Jake

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