There’s only one name synonymous with Jason Bourne – and it’s Matt Damon. But, being the only constant in the original trilogy doesn’t mean he should be the one most closely linked to the films. That title belongs to second, third, and fourth film director Paul Greengrass. Want proof? Here’s 5 reasons why.
5. Real Performances in Movies Devoid of Them
Despite having featured Damon, Bryan Cox, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Edward Norton, and now Tommy Lee Jones over the years, you don’t watch a Bourne movie for the acting. These are spy movies that are big on action and small on subtlety. Points go to Greengrass, however, for being able to harness a moment of legitimate drama between all of the brawls, explosions, and gunfire.
The scene above is a good example of this, near the climax of The Bourne Ultimatum when our amnesiac super-soldier finally realizes where he came from and why he signed up for the secret government program that would ultimately ruin his life.
4. Balls-to-the-Wall Action
Before Bourne, Greengrass was primarily an indie director of politically-minded dramas that flirted with action like Resurrected or Bloody Sunday, but his realist style transitioned nicely to what is ostensibly a globe-trotting blockbuster series.
Given the kind of carte blanche a studio budget offers, Greengrass still siphoned the small intensity of his early films into what became the defining action series of the decade.
An argument could be made that all car chase scenes post The French Connection wouldn’t be able to live up to its iconic train chase. But, just watching the Moscow car chase from The Bourne Supremacy shows Greengrass created an unrivaled sense of dynamic cat-and-mouse energy.
3. Twists and Turns
The death of Marie in the opening of The Bourne Supremacy is meant to be shocking, considering she gave up her life at the end of The Bourne Identity to join Damon’s character in a life on the lam. The story beat itself was rightly concocted by screenwriter Tony Gilroy to set a certain tempo for the sequel, but the execution (no pun intended) lies in the deft hand of Greengrass’s direction.
The back and forth between Bourne and Marie, with him as the spiteful aggressor, and her trying to calm the situation, is even more tragic beyond the actual killing itself. Greengrass lets it set in with their truck tumbling off a bridge and Bourne having to watch her body float away. Its easy to forget how disturbing such an early-movie twist is now that we have formula-busting shows like Game of Thrones killing off lead characters left and right. But 12 years ago it was nearly unheard of.
2. Pitch-Perfect Espionage
The actual act of spying is difficult to portray on-screen, but the real shining scenes in the Bourne series come from the way Greengrass gradually unfurls the tension of quieter moments.
The above example from The Bourne Ultimatum is arguably the most important on in the entire series, with Bourne stealing files that will blow the lid off the secret government assassination program that made him the way he is.
Greengrass slowly lets us in on mounting story beats, like Bourne casually admitting he’s calling David Strathairn’s bad guy character from inside his office, or that the entire conversation was a ploy to get the documents in the first place. It’s the perfect meeting of the visual as well as the dialogue cues, and that’s how Greengrass treats most of the espionage throughout his installments of the series.
1. The Fight Scenes
Greengrass gets a lot of flack for pioneering the “shaky cam” aesthetic that, at worst, makes audience members with motion sickness hurl into their popcorn buckets. But, while some moments in the series are truly stomach turning because of the rapid and claustrophobic style, for the most part, the fight scenes use it to their advantage.
The wordless scene in The Bourne Supremacy where Bourne uses a magazine to take out another operative trying to kill him is the most inventive and successful example of this. It’s brutal, relentless, and shaky while not being nausea-inducing. It feels like you’re in the fight between the two, which is the best possible thing an action movie can do.
Photos via Getty Images / Tristan Fewings