Paul Greengrass interview
Director Paul Greengrass is renowned for his hard-hitting documentaries and dramas, namely The Murder Of Steven Lawrence and the award winning Bloody Sunday, starring James Nesbitt. The Bourne Supremacy franchise is his first venture into large commercial direction.
LF: When did you start this kind of shooting style with really fast cutting?
PG: Well, as a director you always try and develop a style, and it's sort of the product of who you are and what you've made and where you've been, and your sort of temperament. It's about what happens when your style meets the piece that you're making. I'm very interested in the idea of what happens when the world moves out of control; I think you can see that in quite a few of the films I've made before this one, but they're tiny, little films.
LF: Why are you so interested in that, when the world starts getting out of control?
PG: I think...well it's exciting and interesting, and things that are impossible become possible, both for the good and the bad; its change, it's motion, it's kinetic, and it's visceral and immediate. I suppose if your background is in documentaries, as mine was, if that's where you spent your formative years. And I was sent around the world seeing lots of interesting things and taught how to observe and record them and that was the first duty of a filmmaker. I want to observe and record the way the world is.
LF: How do you adapt from that to this huge corporate production with so many people involved?
PG: Well it's a challenge. It's interesting because it really goes to the issue of style. I think there were three challenges for me personally in this film: I think the first challenge was the first film The Bourne Identity, which had obviously been very successful, but also good.
The reason I wanted to make The Bourne Supremacy was because I had seen the first film and I thought it was a really fresh, original, interesting, a mainstream thriller, and they don't come along very often. But it means that the stakes are very high when you walk in so that's quite a challenge. I think though you are either instinctively intimidated by it, in which case you don't make the film, or you go, "Do you know what? We could take this on." And I always believed we could take this story on and do something interesting.
I think the second challenge is the logistical challenge, just the making of a film in so many places; Moscow and India and Berlin and Naples and New York, in a tight time frame on a grand scale. I've only ever made small films before.
The third aspect is actually the one that was the real challenge, for me, personally. And it comes down to style. The films I have made before are basically things that I feel passionate about on a small scale. But are quite obscure political films; films about the way my world is, And the challenge of moving right into the middle of the mainstream, is would I lose my point of view? Would it become diluted?
That was the challenge but when I watched this film, it feels like a film that I've made. It looks like mine. It's got my style and it's got something to say I think. I think it's a great adventure, I think it's a great ride, as Bourne films have to be, and any film that's in the mainstream has got to be worth the price of admission. You've got to get to the end of the movie and go, "Fantastic, that's been a great ride."
LF: There is this political undertone about the abuse of intelligence by the authority; was that what most interested you in this project?
PG: I think I was very lucky with this project. The people most involved in the film, although all different, had a core understanding that it was only going to work as a sequel if we were bold and took some risks and were different. What I'm most proud of is that we've kept, underneath that story, this move from revenge to some kind of journey of discovery to an unpredictable end.
I think that we've lived through some very profound times when the instinct for revenge has been very considerable. But I think now we're in different times, we're in questioning times. It's quite clear that our governments have not been telling us the truth about the important stuff like why we went to war. It's quite clear that the secret parts of our governments have profoundly let us down. The consequence of that is a great tide of mistrust coursing through our cultures now.
It seems to me, The Bourne Supremacy, really reflects that. It's about a real man wracked with inner conflict, unable to trust authority, desperately searching for an answer. I am very proud to have made a mainstream movie that sort of gets to that, without it being overstated. It's a contemporary film; it's about where we are now. And I think it's a great ride...
LF: What about the third one, aren't Bourne's problems resolved after this movie?
PG: It's interesting, this, because in my point of view when I took it on, and I talked a lot about this with Matt, a big part of the fun of doing the job was making it possible to have a third. It was so clear to me coming into this film that the Bourne franchise was very special. You know, when you look at the franchises that are out there--I'm not decrying them, there are some very good ones--but it's a special one because it's real. It's all about being gritty, being edgy, real streets, real world, but more important it's about being subversive of authority, being mistrustful of authority, it's all about being questioning and doubt-ridden and about being intelligent and contemporary.
So if you compare, say, Bourne with Bond, which I think is a very interesting comparison because they're both similar kind of characters. Both spawned out of the Cold War as literary characters, but what do you find when you look at them?
Bond is an insider, a cruel character actually, in the movies and even more so in the books, he kills without remorse, regret, doubt, and actually enjoys it. He is quite clearly, misogynistic, imperialist, an adventurer, a lover of secrets who worships at the altar of technology, and always gets out of trouble because he's got some easy bit of gadgetry.
But then you look at Bourne and he's the absolute antithesis. He's an outsider, he's a subversive and mistrustful figure, he's absolutely not a misogynist, he's absolutely not an imperialist; on the contrary, he's coming from a quite different place.
He never relies on gadgetry. You know, he's a trained guy so he's got to have all those attributes but it's about what he can make up on the spot. He's a character who you could be if you had military training. It's a believable world, not a fantasy world, and looked at in that context, the character is special; the character should live on because there are other ways you can take that character and it'd just be different in the mainstream.