Directed by Doug Liman, starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen and Brian Cox.
Matt Damon as an action hero? Not exactly the safest of bets - especially if you've just seen his buddy Ben Affleck's turn in 'The Sum of All Fears'. But against the odds (the film was shelved for two years) and moving into mainstream studio territory, 'Swingers' and 'Go' director Doug Liman comes up with a decent action thriller and one of Damon's best roles.
Based on the Robert Ludlum best seller, Damon's hero is found unconscious off the coast of Marseilles by a passing trawler. He's been shot in the back but can't explain to the crew who he is, how he ended up there or why he had the number of a Swiss bank account embedded under his skin. Hopping off at the next port, he begins his search for the answers and on reaching a safety deposit box in Zurich, discovers that his name is Jason Bourne. Or is it? With five other passports, a gun and lots of money also at his disposal, Bourne has to figure out if he really wants to remember the life he's forgotten?
'The Bourne Identity' is enjoyable because Damon isn't out to save the world (a la Affleck in 'The Sum of All Fears') just himself - and Franka Potente as the wanderer who gets him out of Zurich before the bullets start flying. Some set pieces work (his escape from a US embassy), some don't (two separate dust-ups with killers in Paris apartments) and the main one, a chase through Paris, is an equal parts rehash of 'Ronin' and 'The Italian Job'. But Liman steers the film with such style from the get go that you won't actually care about the rough edges. The characterisation may suffer as a result (Clive Owen's hitman deserved more screentime) but it also means that the film doesn't get bogged down in some on the run romance between Damon and Potente. Sure, they get it together, but there's no time for any afterglow as Damon's Bourne wipes the room for fingerprints before they bail.
'The Bourne Identity' restores some much needed cred to the espionage genre after the likes of 'The Jackal', 'Mercury Rising' and 'Bad Company' and could have you searching out the book to fill in the plotlines which the film had to gloss over. The good news is that if you enjoy reading it, there are two follow-ups you should get cracking on too because it's a really safe bet that Damon will be Bourne again.