When The Bourne Identity (2002) debuted in theaters, audiences were hungry for a new kind of spy film. The James Bond films adhered to a tried and true formula and it had gotten old.
A mysterious, unconscious body is found floating out at sea by a boatload of fishermen. Two bullets in his back and a device that stores a Swiss bank account is found embedded in his hip. He wakes up with amnesia and one of the men onboard fixes him up. After two weeks at sea, he makes his way to land and begins a quest to find his identity. Over time, he discovers skills he didn’t know he had but come out instinctively, like the ability to disable two armed police officers with his bare hands in
It becomes obvious that Bourne assembled this stash of supplies in case of a situation like the one he’s currently experiencing. After a daring escape from the
Because Bourne suffers from amnesia and is being hunted by a secret branch of the CIA, we sympathize with his plight. It doesn’t hurt that he’s portrayed by Matt Damon who comes across as instantly likable and empathetic. Before The Bourne Identity, he was not regarded as an action star so his capacity for sudden bursts of ruthlessly efficient violence and the ability to escape from several dangerous situations was a revelation. Damon pulls it off and more importantly is convincing as a deadly assassin with no memory.
Chris Cooper exudes just the right amount of uptight malevolence that we’ve come to expect from a Republican-controlled government. The casting of Franka Potente as Bourne’s love interest is an intriguing choice. She doesn’t have the supermodel looks associated with the Bond girls. She’s beautiful but in an attainable way. And she also brings a certain amount of international cinema cache thanks to her break-out performance in Run Lola Run (1998). As a result, she doesn’t come across as some damsel in distress but a proactive foil for Bourne.
What separates The Bourne Identity from the Bond films at the time is that it takes the international espionage thriller and personalizes it. For the most part, the adventures that Bond had never affected him personally (notable exception being License to Kill and now the two new Daniel Craig films) while in The Bourne Identity it is very personal but without sacrificing all the things we’ve come to expect from a spy movie: exotic locales, exciting car chases, lethal bad guys, and intense fight scenes. What made the film such a breath of fresh air was how it tweaked these tried and true conventions.Like the first Mission: Impossible film (1996), Bourne is targeted for elimination after he’s outlived his usefulness and plays a deadly cat and mouse game with his handlers in order to expose their dirty dealings just like Ethan Hunt. With The Bourne Supremacy (2004), Bourne is still trying to fully regain his memory and is hiding out in
One of the first things that becomes obvious while watching this film is how its look harkens back to 1970s American cinema. Director Paul Greengrass utilizes the gritty, realistic look of his previous film, the powerful Bloody Sunday (2002), with a lot of hand-held camerawork and snap zooms to give a you-are-there rush of adrenaline and urgency to the action sequences. In the car chases, Greengrass often places the camera right in the vehicle so that it is almost like we are riding along with Bourne, trying to piece together his fragmented past. In particular, the first chase in
Matt Damon plays Bourne with a quiet determination and intensity. It’s a surprisingly minimalist performance devoid of self-conscious tics and proves that his performance in the first Bourne film was no fluke. Bourne is not some invincible, super-soldier but a tortured man trying to rebuild his past and his identity. He doesn’t kill unless absolutely forced to. And yet, he is certainly a man of action, capable of going from an inert, passive figure to one full of explosive action in a heartbeat. There is an impressively staged fight scene in a kitchen between Bourne and another Operation Treadstone survivor that is dizzyingly claustrophobic thanks to extensive hand-held camerawork that dives right into the chaos. Greengrass’ camera flies around the tight confines of this room, dragging us along for this visceral, almost primal sequence.
The people behind the Bourne franchise are smart and willing to take chances. They cast an atypical action hero with Matt Damon, surrounded him with an eclectic cast that mixed Hollywood and internationally known stars (with the likes of Julia Stiles, Brian Cox and Karl Urban) and hired independent filmmakers like Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass against type to direct, letting them put their own unique stamp on their respective films. These choices have paid off, resulting in three smart, gritty movies that are as intelligent as they are action-packed, making the Bond films look obsolete in comparison.
If The Bourne Identity was about our hero escaping from his CIA handlers and The Bourne Supremacy was about him figuring out why they are still after him, then The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) is all about getting revenge on those responsible for messing up his life in the first place and figuring out, once and for all, his identity.
Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) is an investigative reporter working for The Guardian, a British newspaper, and who is doing a story about Bourne and a top secret mission called Operation: BlackBriar. Naturally, the CIA finds out and puts Ross under surveillance in the hopes that Bourne will contact him, which he does, at a busy
Fortunately, Bourne takes Ross’ notes and figures out that the source is located in
Paul Greengrass, who directed Supremacy, is back behind the camera bringing his trademark, no-nonsense pacing and visceral, hand-held camerawork to Ultimatum. The film’s action sequences are the epitome of edgy intensity as the fight scenes are quick and as brutal as a PG-13 rating will allow. They are realistically depicted – after all, guys as well-trained as Bourne don’t waste any time and know exactly how to bring someone down as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Like with the other Bourne films, Ultimatum also has exciting chases, including the police pursuing Bourne over rooftops in Tangiers while he’s chasing an assassin going after Nicky, and a crazy car chase through the busy streets of
What elevates Ultimatum (and the rest of the series) above, say, the