Who’d have believed that Matt Damon, of all people, could provide a credible substitute for James Bond? However, with the hallowed Bond franchise in the midst of lean creative times, Damon is tautly believable as a CIA assassin with no memory of who he is and no idea why people are trying to kill him. Unlike Pierce Brosnan’s recent outings as the world famous super-spy, the writers do not let Damon down.
The movie begins with Damon being fished out of the Mediterranean by French fishermen. He has two bullets in his back and a strange capsule in his hip. He awakes to find he has no idea who he is and how he came to be floating in the ocean. The only clue is the capsule, which contains a Swiss bank account number. He makes his way to Geneva to find that the Swiss account opens a safe deposit box containing a small fortune in currency, a gun and six passports, one in the name of Jason Bourne. He also discovers he can take out rooms full of cops and embassy guards without breaking a sweat. One of the passports points him to a residence in Paris. He offers a quirky bohemian girl named Marie (Franka Potente) $10,000 to drive him there. She is understandably a tad suspicious, but she can’t turn down that kind of pay day.
His activity alerts his superiors back at CIA headquarters in Langley. They are surprised since they thought he was dead. It seems that an attempted assassination of a troublesome African leader-in-exile has gone awry and the project leader (Chris Cooper) is feeling the heat from his boss (Brian Cox) to clean it up. Cooper searches for a way to finish the mission and bury Bourne at the same time, tracking him minute-by-minute through his operative in Paris (Julia Stiles).
The Bourne Identity chugs along without much let-up as its star chops, kicks, drives and/or shoots his way out of one jam after another. Damon obviously bulked up for the role and handles the physical action convincingly. Potente is fresh and appealing as the rootless girl who proves more resilient than even she knew she was. The story is just implausible enough to make a satisfying spy thriller without going ridiculously over the top like some of the more recent Bond exercises.