This smart screen adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s espionage thriller begins with an unconscious man (Damon) being plucked from the Mediterranean Sea by a group of Italian fishermen. The vessel’s doctor removes two slugs from his back and a device from his hip that contains a Swiss bank account number. The waterlogged soul doesn’t know who he is or how he got there, but follows his only clue to a safe-deposit box in Zurich. After rummaging through the contents, he discovers that his name is Jason Bourne, and hopes to learn more from a visit to the American consulate. Instead of sanctuary, Bourne suddenly finds himself on the run from his own government, accompanied by Marie, a down-on-her-luck girl who agrees to drive him to Paris for $10,000. They develop a tender friendship as they face tails and ambushes at every turn, and work together to solve the puzzle. One thing is clear: Someone wants Bourne dead, and fast. Pieces begin to fall into place as he displays surprising linguistic and self-defense skills, and learns what we already know—that he is actually a black-ops assassin with the clandestine Treadstone project who has outlived his usefulness.
positive elements: A kind fisherman nurses Bourne to health and gives him some money to get by. In an early exchange, Bourne tells Marie, "You act like I’m trying to burn you. I’m just trying to do the right thing." Her cynical response is, "Nobody does the right thing." But to his credit, this hero tries. Bourne may be a trained assassin, but based on his interaction with innocent people, it’s obvious that he’s not a natural born killer. There’s no malicious blood lust in him. In fact, he resists offing bad guys except in self-defense, and even then stops short of killing them when possible. He doesn’t steal Marie’s car or force her to help him, but makes her a generous offer and gives her the freedom to say no. He’s sensitive to her feelings throughout. He tries to keep her out of danger. At one point he realizes his pursuers have a take-no-prisoners attitude, and forces Marie to let him go on alone. Bourne shows concern for innocent children who may be at risk because of his presence in their home, and insures their protection before going after his attacker. [Spoiler Warning] We learn that Bourne was indeed "programmed" to kill, and fell out of favor with his handlers when he failed to complete a mission by showing mercy to an exiled political leader he was sent to assassinate (with a gun pressed to the target’s head, he saw the man’s young children nearby and refused to pull the trigger).
sexual content: Bourne and Marie kiss passionately and she removes his shirt before the camera backs out of their hotel room, leaving the audience to assume a night of passion, (even so, she wakes up the next morning alone wearing a modest T-shirt and shorts).
violent content: Harassed by two beat cops for sleeping on a park bench, Bourne proceeds to use karate moves to incapacitate them. Similar abuse is heaped upon guards at the U.S. consulate who try to take him into custody for no apparent reason. He also throws a pursuer down a flight of stairs. A kindly woman is found dead with a bullet wound in her forehead, the victim of an assassin bent on killing Bourne. The murderer bursts into Bourne’s apartment firing a machine-gun. Predator and prey exchange blows before it turns into a knife fight and Bourne causes a bloody stab wound. Beaten, the assassin commits suicide by leaping through a glass window and off a balcony. Wild car chases cause collateral damage as vehicles crash and flip violently. A political leader is shot dead by a sniper. A car explodes. A sniper takes shots at Bourne before the tables are turned and his target flushes him out and blows him away with a shotgun. One bad guy takes a bullet in the head. Another is shot several times at close range. In flashback, the audience is placed behind the eyes of Bourne as he takes two slugs in the back.
crude or profane language: There are approximately 30 profanities or crude expressions, including five s-words, an f-word and 16 exclamatory uses of the Lord’s name (seven of them abusing the name of Christ).
drug and alcohol content: Feeling stressed, Marie buys a flask of whiskey and takes a swig.
conclusion: Language and violence make it impossible to recommend this film, but it’s the rare spy thriller that allows us to root for a "killing machine" with a conscience. Usually we’re simply expected to embrace the protagonist, amoral warts and all. In The Bourne Identity, Matt Damon plays a man oblivious to his past, and who has no apparent desire to remain a government-sanctioned assassin. How he fell into operation Treadstone in the first place is unclear, but his often noble behavior and concern for others suggests that it may even have been against his will. This makes him a sympathetic fugitive. He’s no saint, but we want to see him survive the system and start a new life of reordered priorities. Unfortunately, Damon’s conflicted superspy, exciting cat-and-mouse action and some beautiful European locales can’t compensate for inappropriate language and frequent killings. The Bourne Identity will leave discerning viewers wishing they could develop selective amnesia and forget this entertaining movie’s unnecessary offenses.