Robert Ludlum's labyrinthine thrillers have already attracted the attention of such film makers as John Frankenheimer ("The Holcroft Covenant") and Sam Peckinpah ("The Osterman Weekend"). However, it has taken the hip, quirky sensibility of Doug Liman ("Slackers") to bring his prose into the 21st century.
The result is "The Bourne Identity", a fast-paced, unpredictable and edgy yarn that breathes new life into the espionage thriller genre. Liman's secret weapon is Matt Damon who, despite being ten years younger than Ludlum's Jason Bourne, offers an interesting variation on classic spies like Harry Palmer and George Smiley.
When we first meet Bourne, he is a half-dead amnesiac rescued at sea with no identifying marks beside the bullets in his back and a Swiss bank account number embedded in his hip. Travelling from Marseilles to Zurich to Paris, Jason must work out who he is before the assassins sent by his former employers catch up with him.
It's an ingenious set-up that culminates in a thrilling "Italian Job"-style chase through the streets of Paris in a beaten-up old Mini. Unfortunately there's still an hour to go, and the subsequent diversion into the French countryside conspicuously lacks the energy and pace of what precedes it.
Franka Potente of "Run Lola Run" fame is shamefully wasted as Damon's love interest, and it would have been nice to see more of Clive Owen as one of the ruthless killers on Jason's trail. But this is still a sharply written and slickly edited above average blockbuster affair.