A bullet-ridden amnesiac is rescued from drowning by a fishing trawler, only to find himself the unwitting target of enemies. Is he really the ruthless assassin they think he is? And will he even live long enough to figure it out?
With a two-year shooting schedule, a script that was redrafted more times than the cast care to remember, and Matt Damon making at least two movies (Ocean's 11 and Spirit) in the middle of all that mess, this thriller comes to the cinemas as much a marked man as its central character. Some of the joins do show, especially towards the end of the film, when a couple of minor characters disappear completely, but by then it has been too much fun to start picking holes.
From the moment Jason Bourne (an excellent Matt Damon) discovers his true powers - taking out in blistering style two cops who accuse him of loitering - a new hero is created. Damon plays Bourne as a man of cat-like instinct; he can make a weapon out of a fountain pen and sense danger at the most innocent of signals.
On the run across Europe with beatnik Potente, his quest to find himself becomes more involving since he is the opposite in nature to his physical appearance. This blue-eyed, innocent-looking American wants to be just that - and yet, much to his horror, he can't help using calculated efficiency to dispose of anyone who represents a challenge to him.
Doug Liman (Swingers, Go) seemed an unlikely choice as an action director, but his hand-held camera style and the improvisational work he does with actors clearly paid dividends here. However ridiculous the situation (and there are some extremely ridiculous situations), he maintains an air of heightened realism about his treatment of Bourne's predicament.
Pumped-up sound effects add to the gruesomeness of the fight sequences. Listen for that moment when the pen is pulled out of a would-be assailant's hand - it's a beaut! For once, a sequel would be welcome.
Nothing in The Bourne Identity stands up to close examination, but that doesn't stop it being a rollicking blockbuster ride and perfect Saturday night fodder. Spectacular stunts, enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing, and Matt Damon delivering as an action hero.