The film was co-produced and directed by Doug Liman and adapted for the screen by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron. Although Robert Ludlum died in 2001, he is credited as an executive producer alongside Frank Marshall. Universal Pictures released the film to theatres in the United States on June 14, 2002, and it received a positive critical and public reaction.
In the Mediterranean Sea, Italian fishermen rescue an unconscious American (Matt Damon) floating adrift with two gunshot wounds in his back. They tend to his wounds, and when the man wakes, they find he suffers from dissociative amnesia. He has no memory of his own identity, while he retains his speech and finds himself capable of advanced combat skills and fluency in several languages. The skipper finds a tiny laser projector under the man's hip that, when activated, gives a number of a safe deposit box in Zürich. Upon landing in Imperia (Italy), the man heads to the bank in Switzerland to investigate the deposit box. He finds it contains a large sum of money in various currencies, numerous passports and identity cards with his picture on all of them, and a handgun. The man takes everything but the gun, and leaves, opting to use the name on the American passport, Jason Bourne.
After Bourne's departure, a bank employee contacts Operation Treadstone, a CIA black ops program. Treadstone's head, Alexander Conklin (Chris Cooper), activates three agents to take down Bourne—Castel (Nicky Naude), Manheim (Russell Levy), and the Professor (Clive Owen)—while also issuing alerts to local police to capture him. Meanwhile, CIA Deputy Director Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) contacts Conklin about a failed assassination attempt against exiled African dictator Nykwana Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Conklin promises Abbott that he will deal with the Treadstone agent who failed.
Bourne attempts to evade the Swiss police by using his U.S. passport to enter the American consulate, but he is discovered by guards. He evades capture, and escapes the consulate, giving a German woman, Marie Kreutz (Franka Potente), $20,000 to drive him to an address in Paris listed on his French driving license. At the address, an apartment, he hits redial on the phone and reaches a hotel. He inquires about the names on his passports there, learning that a "John Michael Kane" had been registered but died two weeks prior in a car crash. Castel ambushes Bourne and Marie in the apartment, but Bourne gets the upper hand. Instead of allowing himself to be interrogated, Castel throws himself out a window to his death. Marie finds wanted posters of Bourne and herself, and after agonizing, agrees to continue to help Bourne. After a chase in which Bourne evades Paris police in Marie's car, the two fugitives spend the night together in a Paris hotel.
Meanwhile, Wombosi continues to obsess over the attempt on his life. Conklin, having anticipated this, planted a body in the Paris morgue to appear as the assailant, but Wombosi is not fooled and threatens to report this and other CIA secrets to the media. The Professor assassinates Wombosi on Conklin's orders. Bourne, posing as Kane, learns about Wombosi's yacht, and that the assailant had been shot twice in the back during the escape; he realizes that he was the assailant. He and Marie take refuge at the French countryside home of her old friend Eamon (Tim Dutton) and his children. Under pressure from Abbott to tie off the Wombosi matter entirely, Conklin tracks Bourne's location and sends the Professor there, but Bourne shoots him twice with Eamon's shotgun, mortally wounding him. The Professor reveals their shared connection to Treadstone before dying. Bourne sends Marie, Eamon, and Eamon's children away for their protection, and then contacts Conklin via the Professor's phone to arrange a meeting. From a rooftop near the arranged location in Paris, Bourne sees Conklin has brought backup, so he abandons the meeting, but uses the opportunity to place a tracking device on Conklin's car, leading Bourne to Treadstone's safe house.
Bourne breaks in and holds Conklin and logistics technician Nicolette "Nicky" Parsons (Julia Stiles) at gunpoint. When Conklin begins pressing him to remember his past, Bourne recalls his attempt to assassinate Wombosi through successive flashbacks. As Kane, and working under orders from Treadstone, Bourne infiltrated Wombosi's yacht but could not bring himself to kill Wombosi while Wombosi's children were present, and instead fled, being shot during his escape. Bourne announces he is resigning from Treadstone and is not to be followed. As agents descend on the safe house, Bourne fights his way free. When Conklin leaves the safe house, he encounters Manheim, who kills him under Abbott's orders. Abbott then shuts down Treadstone.
Abbott reports to an oversight committee that Treadstone is "all but decommissioned" before discussion turns to a new project codenamed "Blackbriar". In the final scene, Bourne finds Marie renting out scooters to tourists on Mykonos, and the two reunite.Matt Damon as David Webb / Jason Bourne
Franka Potente as Marie Helene Kreutz
Chris Cooper as Alexander Conklin
Clive Owen as The Professor
Brian Cox as Ward Abbott
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Nykwana Wombosi
Gabriel Mann as Danny Zorn
Julia Stiles as Nicolette "Nicky" Parsons
Josh Hamilton as Research Tech
Walton Goggins as Research Tech
Orso Maria Guerrini as Giancarlo
Tim Dutton as Eamon
Nicky Naude as Castel
Russell Levy as Manheim
Director Doug Liman has said that he had been a fan of the source novel by Robert Ludlum since he read it in high school. Near the end of production of Liman's previous film Swingers, Liman decided to develop a film adaptation of the novel. After more than two years of securing rights to the book from Warner Bros. and a further year of screenplay development with screenwriter Tony Gilroy, the film went through two years of production. Universal Pictures acquired the film rights to Ludlum's books in the hopes of starting a new film franchise. William Blake Herron was brought in to rewrite the script in 1999.
Of particular inspiration were Liman's father's memoirs regarding his involvement in the investigation of the Iran–Contra affair. Many aspects of the Alexander Conklin character were based on his father's recollections of Oliver North. Liman admitted that he jettisoned much of the content of the novel beyond the central premise, in order to modernize the material and to conform it to his own beliefs regarding United States foreign policy. However, Liman was careful not to cram his political views down "the audience's throat". There were initial concerns regarding the film's possible obsolescence and overall reception in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, but these concerns proved groundless.
Liman approached a wide range of actors for the role of Bourne, including Brad Pitt, who turned it down to star in Spy Game, as well as Russell Crowe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and Sylvester Stallone, before he eventually cast Damon. Liman found that Damon understood and appreciated that, though The Bourne Identity would have its share of action, the focus was primarily on character and plot. Damon, who had never played such a physically demanding role, insisted on performing many of the stunts himself. With stunt choreographer Nick Powell, he underwent three months of extensive training in stunt work, the use of weapons, boxing, and eskrima. He eventually performed a significant number of the film's stunts himself, including hand-to-hand combat and climbing the safe house walls near the film's conclusion.
Filming began October 2000. From the onset of filming, difficulties with the studio slowed the film's development and caused a rift between the director and Universal Pictures, as executives were unhappy with the film's pacing, emphasis on small scale action sequences, and the general relationship between themselves and Liman, who was suspicious of direct studio involvement. A number of reshoots and rewrites late in development, plus scheduling problems, delayed the film from its original release target date of September 2001 to June 2002 and took it $8,000,000 over budget from the initial budget of $60 million; screenwriter Tony Gilroy faxed elements of screenplay rewrites almost throughout the entire duration of filming. A particular point of contention with regard to the original Gilroy script were the scenes set in the farmhouse near the film's conclusion. Liman and Matt Damon fought to keep the scenes in the film after they were excised in a third-act rewrite that was insisted upon by the studio. Liman and Damon argued that, though the scenes were low key, they were integral to the audience's understanding of the Bourne character and the film's central themes. The farmhouse sequence consequently went through many rewrites from its original incarnation before its inclusion in the final product.
Other issues included the studio's desire to substitute Montreal or Prague for Paris in order to lower costs, Liman's insistence on the use of a French-speaking film crew, and poor test audience reactions to the film's Paris finale. The latter required a late return to location in order to shoot a new, more action-oriented conclusion to the Paris story arc. In addition to Paris, filming took place in Prague, Imperia, Rome, Mykonos, and Zürich; several scenes set in Zürich were also filmed in Prague. Damon described the production as a struggle, citing the early conflicts that he and Liman had with the studio, but denied that it was an overtly difficult process, stating, "When I hear people saying that the production was a nightmare it's like, a 'nightmare'? Shooting's always hard, but we finished."
Liman's directorial method was often hands-on. Many times he operated the camera himself in order to create what he believed was a more intimate relationship between himself, the material, and the actors. He felt that this connection was lost if he simply observed the recording on a monitor. This was a mindset he developed from his background as a small-scale indie film maker.
The acclaimed car chase sequence was filmed primarily by the second unit under director Alexander Witt. The unit shot in various locations around Paris while Liman was filming the main story arc elsewhere in the city. The finished footage was eventually edited together to create the illusion of a coherent journey. Liman confessed that "anyone who really knows Paris will find it illogical", since few of the locations used in the car chase actually connect to each other. Liman took only a few of the shots himself; his most notable chase sequence shots were those of Matt Damon and Franka Potente while inside the car.
The film received positive reviews. The film review collection website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an 83% approval rating based on 185 reviews collected, and an average score of 7/10. The site's consensus reads "Expertly blending genre formula with bursts of unexpected wit, The Bourne Identity is an action thriller that delivers—and then some."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars and praised it for its ability to absorb the viewer in its "spycraft" and "Damon's ability to be focused and sincere" concluding that the film was "unnecessary, but not unskilled". Walter Chaw of Film Freak Central praised the film for its pacing and action sequences, describing them as "kinetic, fair, and intelligent, every payoff packaged with a moment's contemplation crucial to the creation of tension" and that the movie could be understood as a clever subversion of the genre. Charles Taylor of Salon.com acclaimed the film as "entertaining, handsome and gripping, The Bourne Identity is something of an anomaly among big-budget summer blockbusters: a thriller with some brains and feeling behind it, more attuned to story and character than to spectacle" and praised Liman for giving the film a "tough mindedness" that never gives way into "cynicism or hopelessness".
Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine also noted Doug Liman's "restrained approach to the material" as well as Matt Damon and Franka Potente's strong chemistry, but ultimately concluded the film was "smart, but not smart enough". J. Hoberman of The Village Voice dismissed the film as "banal" and as a disappointment compared against Liman's previous indie releases; Owen Gleiberman also criticised the film for a "sullen roteness that all of Liman's supple handheld staging can't disguise". Aaron Beierle of DVDTalk gave particular praise to the film's central car chase which was described as an exciting action highlight and one of the best realized in the genre.
In its opening weekend, The Bourne Identity took in US$27,118,640 in 2,638 theaters. The film grossed $121,661,683 in North America and $92,263,424 elsewhere for a total worldwide gross of $214,034,224.
On January 21, 2003, Universal Pictures released The Bourne Identity in the U.S. on VHS as well as on DVD in two formats: a single-disc widescreen collector's edition and a single-disc full screen collector's edition. Both contain supplemental materials including a making-of documentary, a commentary from director Doug Liman and deleted scenes. On July 13, 2004, Universal released a new DVD of the film in the U.S. in preparation for the sequel's cinema debut. This DVD came in the same two formats: a single-disc widescreen (Extended edition) and a single-disc full screen (Extended edition). Both contain supplemental materials including interviews with Matt Damon, deleted scenes, alternative opening and ending, a documentary on the consulate fight and information features on the CIA and amnesia. The alternate ending on the DVD has Bourne collapsing during the search for Marie, waking up with Abbott standing over him, and getting an offer to return to the CIA. Neither contain the commentary or DTS tracks present in the collector's edition. The film was also released on UMD for Sony's PlayStation Portable on August 30, 2005 and on HD DVD on July 24, 2007. With the release of The Bourne Ultimatum on DVD, a new DVD of The Bourne Identity was included in a boxed set with The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. The boxed set is entitled The Jason Bourne Collection. A trilogy set was released on Blu-ray in January 2009.
The score for the Bourne Identity was composed by John Powell. Powell was bought in to replace Carter Burwell, who had composed and recorded a more traditional orchestral score for the film, which director Doug Liman rejected. Since a lot of the music budget had been spent recording the rejected score, Powell's score was initially conceived to be entirely non-orchestral, making extensive use of percussion, guitars, electronics and studio techniques. However, a string section was later overdubbed onto many of the cues to give them a 'cinematic' quality.
The Bourne Identity: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released on June 11, 2002 by Varèse Sarabande. In addition to the score, the film also featured the songs "Extreme Ways" by Moby and "Southern Sun / Ready Steady Go" by Paul Oakenfold. The soundtrack won an ASCAP Award.Track listing
All music composed by John Powell.
The Bourne Identity was followed by a 2004 sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, which received a similar positive critical and public reception, but received some criticism for its hand-held camerawork, which observers argued made action sequences difficult to see. The Bourne Supremacy was directed by Paul Greengrass with Matt Damon reprising his role as Jason Bourne. A third film, The Bourne Ultimatum, was released in 2007 and again was directed by Paul Greengrass and starred Matt Damon. Like Supremacy, Ultimatum received generally positive critical and public reception, but also received similar criticism for the camera-work. Liman remained as executive producer for both films as well as for the fifth film Jason Bourne, once again directed by Greengrass and released in 2016.
The fourth film of the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy was released in 2012. Neither Damon nor Greengrass was involved. Both returned for the fifth film in the franchise, eponymously titled Jason Bourne.