The Greengrass Supremacy

[Written by jose|sound, image|23.03.06]

Who is Paul Greengrass? He is the director of two films as different as excellent: the brutally real “Bloody Sunday” and the more popular “The Bourne Supremacy”. Our target today will be the second title I’ve mentioned, perhaps the best action film (in my opinion) since “Die Hard”.

Action movies usually have a bad press, due to the dreadful quality (it´s true) of some of these products. Many of them attempt on the audience’s intelligence: We are fed up of watching bad guys killing lots of people with great precision, only to become true idiots when it´s about killing the hero. “The Bourne Supremacy” fortunately respects our capacity of thinking.

When Greengrass was hired to take up again the character of CIA agent Jason Bourne, after the great reception obtained by “The Bourne Identity”, he found himself with some questions to take into account:

a) The good reviews received by Doug Liman’s direction in the first film.

b) The fact that the movie was a sequel, with the subsequent risk that the film could lose its autonomy completely to end up being an unnecessary prolongation of the previous one.

c) The need of making the project work fine in the Box takings.

The Greengrass Supremacy

The movie, based on the character created by Robert Ludlum, doesn´t have a great screenplay, though it looks like it did. In fact, had the screenplay fallen in other hands, we would probably be talking about an ordinary action film. However, and after all, the story (not the screenplay) was effective and interesting, and Greengrass knew he could do something with it. So, he began to assemble the pieces of the puzzle:

a) He proposed a fractal narration, particularly in the filming of the scenes. But what´s that? Well, it´s like reaching the point “B” from the point “A” but not in a lineal way. He changes the habitual results of each scene. And he does it:

  • By cutting some stills off, so that the action flows faster. An example: when Bourne takes a key to open a locker, we already know what´s going to follow. The fractal narration speeds up that process with a little ellipsis and it show us the result before.
  • By an unpredictable linking of shots. An example: any pursuit, like the one that takes place in Goa.
  • This is a smart way to stimulate the sensory perception, because it creates a state of expectation (in other words: I can´t get my eyes off the screen because I might lose something interesting).

    Soderbergh had used a similar technique in “Traffic“>Traffic”, and so other directors, but Greengrass applies it to achieve a breathtaking action spectacle.

    b) So as to increase the intensity, the director makes use of the outstanding work of the film editors Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse, as well as the spectacular, emphatic and shaking John Powell’s score.

    c) The action is ultra-real. It seems like the car crashes or the punches hurt vividly. This is maximized in the brilliant and anthological final chase.

    All in all, Greengrass succeeded. He was able to join a commercial or marketing vision of the product, with a personal and realistic style, far away from other action movies´ directors such as Michael Bay, for example. The arguments: his camera-on-hand shooting, a vibrant film editing and a frantic narrative rhythm.

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