As THE BOURNE IDENTITY begins, a man who may or may not be Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is found floating in the Mediterranean Sea and is hauled onto a fishing boat. When the ship's doctor examines the unconscious castaway, he discovers two bullet wounds and an implanted device that displays a Swiss bank account number. With nothing but this code, the amnesiac Bourne travels to Zurich and gains access to a safe-deposit box containing a gun, thousands of dollars in various currencies, and valid passports from numerous countries--each listing a different identity. Within minutes, Bourne is on the run from a seemingly ever-present agency, relying on language and fighting skills he didn't even know he possessed. Offering $20,000 for a ride to Paris, Bourne gains the reluctant help of the nomadic Marie (Franka Potente). Meanwhile, the shadowy organization, headed by a tough-talking bureaucrat (Chris Cooper), sends numerous assassins (including the Professor, played by Clive Owen) after Bourne and Marie. As their situation grows more perilous, the two strangers struggle to find out who Bourne really is and why they are being hunted.
Doug Liman's adaptation of Robert Ludlum's best-selling novel is a remarkable exercise in straightforward storytelling, with the director wisely choosing to focus on Bourne and his quest for identity. The fight sequences are thrilling, but never overly glamorized, and the film's pacing is engaging and deliberate. Damon, who displays genuine bewilderment as his character discovers his almost-superhuman abilities, anchors the proceedings with the subtle charm of an unlikely action hero. Potente also shines as Bourne's road companion, a savvy woman who slowly builds an utterly believable relationship with the confused man. Bearing distinct affinity for its European setting and classic Hollywood suspense films, THE BOURNE IDENTITY succeeds as an unusually smart character-driven thriller.