B is for… The Bourne Identity
For some reason I had a lot of trouble coming up with a B movie to do. Even the one I ultimately chose, The Bourne Identity, is more suspense/thriller than action. However, on the action scale, it beats out several films I’ve reviewed, including Vehicle 19 and Year of the Dragon, but those lowered the bar of comparison so incredibly far, it’s not saying much to surpass them. I remember seeing The Bourne Identity in theaters, and remember not being blown away by it, and after watching it again, I can understand why it didn’t blow me away back then.
The film itself is based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, and stars Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, a man who wakes up on a fishing boat with no memory of who he is or how he got there. All he has is a bank account number that was in a small device implanted in his hip. Obviously his first stop once the boat reaches the mainland is to get to Zurich to go to the bank. At the bank he has a safety deposit box which houses several identifications, a gun, and thousands of dollars in cash in various currencies. Even though he lives in Paris, according to the passport he finds, he knows he is American and goes to the American Embassy in Zurich.
Meanwhile, the story keeps cutting to the CIA, and its agents (lead by Chris Cooper) describe in vague terms that Bourne must be dealt with. He is attacked at the Embassy, narrowly escapes by climbing down the side of the building, and negotiates a ride to Paris with Marie (Franka Potente), a German woman with no money, no place to live, and nowhere to go due to identification issues. Once in Paris they find his apartment, where they are ultimately attacked by an assassin activated by the CIA. Bourne figures out that obviously there is someone trying to kill him, and narrowly escapes either of them being killed or captured. They hole up in a hotel, and Bourne tries to determine their next move.
Meanwhile, the CIA keeps talking about Bourne and an African radical, Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who Bourne was supposed to kill while posing as John Michael Kane. Wombosi tracks down this identity after his supposed death, but knows he’s still alive because he body at the morgue hadn’t been shot. Wombosi’s storyline is ended when another assassin activated by the CIA shoots him through a window with a sniper rifle. Bourne and Marie track John Michael Kane’s last movements and learn he was interested in Wombosi and his yacht, which is all the more apparent when Bourne sees that Wombosi signed the visitor log at the morgue while looking for Kane.
In an attempt to escape and find asylum, Bourne and Marie go to a home of a family member, not expecting him to actually live there. The assassin who shot Wombosi finds them there and dies while trying to hunt Bourne. Before he dies he gives Bourne information about Treadstone, and Bourne has enough pieces to know he is also an assassin trained by the CIA’s Treadstone. At this point Marie leaves with her family and most of Bourne’s acquired money, and Bourne goes back to Paris. He arranges a meeting with the CIA, but knows the man he wants to meet isn’t alone and doesn’t fall for the trap. Instead he sneaks into the hotel where the CIA agents are staying, and learns from them the truth about himself, that his Kane identity was supposed to shoot Wombosi and make it look like an inside job, but he wasn’t able to complete the mission. The CIA agents are left alone while Bourne fights more assassins in the staircase.
Ultimately, the CIA agent’s boss has him assassinated by another Treadstone assassin, and project Treadstone is shut down due to it not being financially sound (supposedly, of course). The last scene of the film is Bourne finding the scooter shop Marie opened, and them rekindling their relationship.
And they lived happily ever after.
Until the sequel.
On to the criteria!
A is for… Accents
The film is very indicative of the linked nature of European countries. Bourne winds up on an Italian fishing boat, then travels to Zurich, where he meets a German woman, then travels to Paris, yet ultimately he is hunting down an African man.
B is for… Bad Guys
It’s a little hard to pin down the villain in the film, because Bourne himself doesn’t know what’s going on. It eventually becomes clear-ish that if we’re rooting for assassin Jason Bourne, clearly the CIA agents are the bad guys, because they’re trying to kill our hero. Bourne is the CIA’s operative and he failed his mission, so therefore they need him dead. To do so they activate other snipers in the Treadstone project, whom Bourne must fight while he tries to figure out what’s going on.
Wombosi is described as being a CIA whistle-blower, implicating high-level agents in dubious activities, which is why they need him killed.
C is for… Chases
Bourne is chased on foot through the American Embassy in Zurich.
There is a long car chase through the streets of Paris after Bourne and Marie are found there. This chase is visually very interesting because the second half of it is against oncoming traffic, so it must have been hard to film.
D is for… Damsels
Marie is introduced in the Embassy, having trouble getting her identification sorted out. She also clearly needs money. The CIA describes her as a “domestic disaster” and a “gypsy” who is hard to track because she moves around so much.
After she and Bourne survive being shot at and chased, he gives her money to go off without him and start a new life for herself.
E is for… Explosions
At Marie’s relative’s farm, Bourne shoots a truck to create a fireball that will provide him cover as he runs away from the house.
F is for… Flashbacks
At the end of the film we finally get some of Bourne’s memories as he remembers sneaking through Wombosi’s yacht, all set to kill him, gun against his head. Then he sees that the man’s children are there, and Bourne has second thoughts and does not kill him.
G is for… Guns
Check out details at the IMFDB.
One of the items in the security box in the bank is a handgun.
When accosted in the Embassy, Bourne snags a handgun off one of the guards.
The Embassy itself has a room full of assault rifles.
The assassin who attacks Bourne and Maria in the Paris apartment has a rifle, and Bourne fires back with another rifle.
Bourne is shot at at Maria’s relative’s farm with a sniper rifle, but he ultimately shoots that assassin with a shotgun.
Bourne and the CIA agent have a standoff at the hotel.
After he tries to leave the CIA agent, Bourne is involved in a firefight in which he fires a handgun upside down. There’s then a shootout in that staircase.
A higher-level CIA agent has the agent after Bourne shot by another assassin from the Treadstone project.
H is for… Helicopters
A rare example of an action movie that has no images of a helicopter at all.
I is for… Improvisation
When escaping the Embassy, Bourne hangs underneath a tiny balcony so he isn’t seen. He then climbs down the side of the building.
When attacked in his apartment, Bourne uses a regular pen to successfully incapacitate his attacker.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
The assassin at the apartment charges through a glass door to get inside. After he is defeated he throws himself through the glass door to the balcony and over the edge to fall to his death in the street.
Bourne, to get away from the shootout in the staircase at the hotel, leaps through the center of the stairs and falls to the floor, using the body of one of the assassins as a cushion.
K is for… Kill Count
Despite Bourne being a trained assassin, he only kills three of assassins who are trying to kill him (the one in the field and the two at the hotel). The first assassin kills himself.
L is for… Limitations
In addition to the no memories thing, which I’ll talk about below under “Quagmire,” Bourne gets headaches as a side effect of the Treadstone programming.
He also cannot trust anyone because he doesn’t know who he is or who is after him.
Like any movie where the protagonist has a civilian sidekick, that sidekick is always a liability, not matter how helpful he or she may be.
M is for… Motivation
At first Bourne’s sole motivation is to find out who he is. Once he starts being chased and hunted, he’s also trying not to die. Once he learns all he can, he wants to stop the Treadstone project (or at least his part in it) and the agents involved, so that they leave him alone.
The CIA agents and Treadstone want their asset, Bourne, back, because he botched the mission and they need to end him.
N is for… Negotiation
Bourne, to Marie: You need money, I need a ride out of here.
The CIA Agent, to Bourne: Come in, or we have to kill you.
Bourne makes the CIA agent meet him on his own terms, alone on the bridge, which the Agent of course can’t fulfill because he needs other agents with him.
When Bourne is face-to-face with the CIA agent, he tells him: Tell them Jason is dead. Do not follow me, or I will bring the fight back. I’m on my own side now.
O is for… One Liners
Bourne: I don’t remember anything before two weeks ago.
Marie: Lucky you.
Bourne: I’m trying to do the right thing.
Marie: Nobody does the right thing.
CIA Agent, about the Paris police not knowing how to properly do a stakeout: Why don’t they hang a banner that says, ‘Don’t come back.’
CIA Agent: Do you have a better idea?
CIA Agent’s Boss: You’ve given me nothing but a trail of collateral damage from Zurich to Paris. I don’t think I could do much worse.
CIA Agent: Why don’t you go upstairs and book a conference room? Maybe you can talk him to death.
Bourne: You think I could rent a scooter?
Marie: You have ID?
Bourne: Not really.
P is for… Profession
There are several hints towards Bourne’s profession throughout the early parts of the film. One is that he is a polyglot and knows at least English, French, and German.
He is also highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat, even if he doesn’t remember any actual training, as evidenced by his fight on the Italian fishing boat, the German policemen in the park, and the guards at the American Embassy.
He’s also highly observant, as demonstrated during his conversation with Marie at the diner where he explains everything he’s noticed about their surroundings.
Eventually it’s explained that Bourne is one of the assassins trained in the CIA’s Treadstone project, which trained men to be assassins using a sort of behavioral software that taught them to follow protocol. The CIA Agent describes them as being “government property,” and that he doesn’t simply send the assassins in to kill, he sends them in to be invisible. The assassin at the farm explains that they always work alone.
Q is for… Quagmire
The driving crux of the movie is that Bourne has no idea who he is, and the majority of the film is him following clues to determine his identity. As he explains to Marie, “[he doesn’t] know who [he] is or where [he’s] going.” He can’t make any real decisions without the clues, and other than his training he can’t really make any educated choices about his next steps. Meanwhile, while’s he’s trying to piece together his life, he’s being hunted.
R is for… Reality, or Suspension of Disbelief
Everything in the film seemed entirely plausible except for the fall through the stairs at the hotel. He should have broken his legs.
S is for… Sidekicks
Like many of the other films I’ve reviewed, here the “damsel” is also the “sidekick.” With the exception of the drive to Paris, her involvement is educated and voluntary. She seems to find Bourne attractive right away which may be why she stayed with him so long.
T is for… Technology
The CIA offices are full of clunky looking huge gray computer monitors, which seem like they’d be anachronistic, but maybe tech really did change that much since 2002.
Bourne uses several payphones, which makes sense considering he doesn’t have a phone, but it’s noticeable.
The CIA uses security cameras to track Bourne, and they must have a good network connection to receive them from Zurich that quickly.
The Treadstone agent uses various bits of surveillance equipment to track down Bourne and surveil phone lines and police bans.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
One of the many films where the romance is tacked-on and utterly expected. There’s a picture of Bourne and Marie kissing on the DVD case! The problem is that it seems kind of forced or illogical; if I just had to flee for my life with a stranger, I don’t think I’d sleep with him, no matter how attractive he is.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
During the car chase through Paris, Bourne steers so that cars around him crash and block the police from getting close to him.
W is for… Winning
Bourne eventually learns of his existence in the Treadstone project, and corners the CIA agent at a hotel, where they have a standoff and he tells the Agent to leave him alone and not come after him. Bourne leaves by shooting two more assassins. The CIA agent is killed by another assassin, sent by his boss, who was tired of the agent’s incompetence. The Treadstone project is decommissioned, or that’s what a board of agents is told.
Bourne himself tracks Marie to her new life on the coast as a scooter salesperson.
X is for X-Rays
Bourne doesn’t seem to have a scratch on him until he falls several flights onto a floor with only another body as his cushion, and even then he seems to only have a cut on his head.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
Clearly something was wrong with the Treadstone programming if Bourne can’t remember anything, and failed his mission.
Z is for… Zone, In The
Anytime Bourne uses his hand-to-hand skills must be considered as him being in the zone because he isn’t thinking about anything he’s doing, it’s all just muscle memory.
The Bourne Identity is a well-received film that spawned three sequels already, the others also based on books. Without the books as source material, it’s unknown if the film sequels would have been made. I personally find the film a little slow for my own liking.
Staircases seem to be a major theme; that, or they’re just very noticeable. There’s the massive staircase in the background at the bank, there’s the staircase chase at the Embassy, there’s the pretty staircase in the apartment building, and the tall staircase at the hotel where Bourne has his final stand.
My basic German came in handy; I could read “Die Zwei Hunde” as “The Two Dogs” on a building behind Bourne at one point.
Marie goes with Bourne to his apartment in Paris, and then immediately decides to take a bath. Is that strange? I think that’s strange. Asking to use his bathroom doesn’t immediately conjure up permission to bathe, in my opinion.
The Paris police and the CIA Agents are absolutely terrible at keeping a low profile in order to capture Bourne. Even in the scene where the main agent is supposed to be meeting Bourne alone on the bridge, he’s wearing a clearly visible earpiece. They should all be embarrassed.
The Treadstone project seems to be run by a woman, which is pretty cool.
The description of each CIA agent and assassin is left vague due to the film’s depiction of them that way.
So, the movie has a lot of good things to it, even though it’s more of a spy thriller than an action movie. It’s just not really my personal cup of tea.