Film Review: The Bourne Identity

Well it seems only right that having spent the last few months watching 23 Bond films that I give the American’s a chance to crack the whip and allow them to “show me what they can do”. After all, I said in my review of Casino Royale that the Bourne trilogy arguably redefined the spy genre and forced Bond to raise it’s game and rethink it’s core ideas – Quantum of Solace aside!

And it’s the comparison and competition with Bond that is arguably the fundamental driving force behind Bourne. Everything about it just says “he’s going to be our James Bond, but better, but 21st Century”. The simplest and most obvious shot across the bows comes straight at you in the form of his name: James Bond, meet Jason Bourne. I just hope Jenson Button doesn’t apply for the job of chauffeur!

Even the title The Bourne Identity can be looked at from the point of view of a questioning of Bond. The important word being “identity“. It’s almost as if they are wanting to set everything up to end the reign of Bond and give the world a new, American spy. After all, this movie does what Hollywood has been doing for years. Take an idea which is successful but feeling tired or away from the mainstream and reinvent it into modern life. Usually it’s a foreign language film – the Millennium series is a good example of this (and the Daniel Craig link keeps my Bond theme going) but this time they’ve taken on Bond, and sadly, at the time, they won.

Bond was feeling old fashioned. We had a franchise that was ageing and as the world became digital, Pierce Brosnan was struggling to make a middle aged, upper class spy fit this new world. It didn’t help that the film makers were trying to embrace new technologies and trends without stopping to ask if the characters could support it – Die Another Day the perfect example of this clash – and it left the spy thriller genre wide open, it just all came together for the introduction of Jason Bourne.

For the first moments you realise that this film is just going to be correct. It’s just going to work. Matt Damon looks right as Bourne. He’s young, fresh and tough. He’s believable. We were moving into a world where kids were becoming overnight millionaires through basic computer code and our spies had to take on this youthfulness too. Matt Damon has enough fresh faced innocence to carry this off but the whole time looks like he’d throw the last punch.

And it’s when the action starts that the nails really start hammering Bond’s potential coffin. Bond was always about black tie, cocktails and over the top stunts, finished off with a side helping of suave. Bourne is about real life. Punches hurt, people die and life is cold. Doug Liman even reinforces this with absolute perfection in the style of cinematography used throughout. This film feels earthy, it feels smelly, there is a sense of realism to it which, at this point Bond had never managed to meet. You honestly feel like you are being drawn into their world and the temperatures, the climate that goes with it. Bond always leaves me thinking – it’s enjoyable but not really realistic. Bourne left me feeling – I wonder if that is actually happening outside right now. And that’s a credit to the film and how good it is; but also serves to emphasize just how far Bond was falling as well.

It’s not all good news Bourne though, because while the film feels real, relevant and right there is a sense as it progresses of having a complete reluctance to change the pace, it’s not an overly long film, and you can never accuse it of plodding along, but it just skips metronomically along taking through it’s ideas and plot. And this means that the tension never really changes, your heart rate never really increases, it never moves you to the edge of your seat.

This film never makes you wonder exactly where it’s going to go or what’s going to happen next. Every spy film essentially boils down to the simple idea of a cat and mouse chase, of good versus bad, and the whole “which side will win” question. But Bourne forgets this, the chase is there but the final confrontation is not. Tom never meets Jerry and while the story draws to an acceptable finish, and a finish that works even from the point of view of The Bourne Identity being a standalone film, it just leaves you slightly unfulfilled and slightly disappointed. It’s almost too clinical.

I like The Bourne Identity, but I think it’s the overall clinicalness and static pacing that cause it to be a film that never quite connects on more than “a once in a while” way with me. I can happily watch it and it keeps me entertained and engaged, but it’s taken 23 Bond films and countless others until the time felt right to let Bourne back into my life.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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