The Bourne Identity ★★★

So, I’ve started doing my homework in preparation for the imminent release of Jason Bourne, and I’m already learning stuff. For example, I had no idea that The Bourne Identity is, alas, actually only one-half of the fantastic thriller that I’ve always remembered it as. Damn.

It’s undoubtedly much stronger in the first half – everything up until, and including, the Parisian apartment sequence is fantastic. Tight, intriguing writing; superb acting from a photogenic cast; wonderfully taut direction (the build-up to the apartment fight is genuinely thrilling). The film has even acquired a comforting, nostalgic glow – our heroes drive an old-style Mini Cooper, use folding maps, get their information from actual newspapers and never use the internet once. For an hour it’s everything you could want from this kind of spy-shenanigan entertainment.

There’s plenty of good stuff in the second half too - I'm especially fond of Brian Cox's increasingly rattled CIA pencil-pusher, as well as the nice comic beat where Bourne’s hyper-competence actually becomes the subject of a joke for the first and only time in the series (it’s the bit where he sends Maria to obtain a hotel bill). But the film loses a lot of momentum in the third quarter with plotting that becomes both repetitive and unclear, and then Franka Potente drops out of sight, leaving us with a final quarter that…

Well, it never entirely collapses, but it’s often painfully obvious that the last twenty minutes have been (skilfully) constructed almost entirely in the editing room from bits-and-pieces that the filmmakers didn’t necessarily know what they were going to do with when they filmed them. The final confrontation between Bourne and Conklin (Chris Cooper) is egregiously compromised by the fact that Julia Stiles has been needlessly and clumsily edited into the scene (it’s patently obvious that she and Matt Damon are not in the same room together – I suppose it’s entirely possible they never even met each other in the flesh until The Bourne Supremacy a couple of years later!). The last quarter just feels wrong, entirely lacking in the effortless sweep of the first hour, and playing more as a first run-through of the sort of beats we would see done much better once Paul Greengrass took up the series’ directorial reins.

It’s still an obvious “recommend” from me, mostly thanks to the fabulous first hour and Matt Damon’s star turn, but that back half does hurt my final grading quite a bit.