Maestro: Paul Greengrass
Known For: Historical recreations and Bourne movies.
Influences: Independent film, activist film, documentaries.
Masterpieces: United 93
Better than you remember: Everything here seems on the up-and-up.
Box Office: over 220 mil for The Bourne Ultimatum
Favorite Actor: You guessed it, Matt Damon.
In order for you to properly experience this post grab both sides of your monitor and shake it vigorously; up down, side to side, every which way. More and more. Just shake the bejesus out of it. There, now doesn't this piece feel gritty and realistic? I kid, of course, because I admire Mr. Greengrass. Though steadfast shaky-cam dissenters aren't likely to give him much goodwill, I find him to be one of the few directors who uses the effect successfully. This is true for two reasons. First, he always uses it as a compliment to (instead of a substitute for) an intelligent plot. And secondly his direction still allows you to understand visual movement through a space. When Jason Bourne is engaging in fisticuffs with someone you can always (or almost always) tell who's winning, who's losing, who's where. Too many modern shaky-cam sequences have you scratching your head the whole time, waiting until the camera seizure stops so you can tell who survived the scuffle (no offense to Michael Mann who I like and who has undoubtedly influenced Greengrass, but Public Enemies is a good example of this). And yes the cliche benefit is that it makes the film seem more realistic. It mimics what we've come to know as verite documentary style. But it's also an expressionist device, allowing the audience to feel the same turbulence as the characters. Though, to work it has to accompany an intelligent story and be coherent enough to keep the viewer from becoming disengaged. Without that it's just a gimmick.
The Theory of Flight. In the past ten years, however, he's stuck with Bourne thrillers or real-life dramatizations. Greengrass knows how to add just the right element to elevate these genres. The use of real air traffic controllers to play themselves in United 93 is worth the price of admission alone (especially FAA chief Ben Sliney who brings a touch of honesty to his performance that somehow can't be dismissed as merely familiarity with his role). The Bourne films, meanwhile have been credited, and rightfully so, with reminding Hollywood what an adult action movie is supposed to look like. And their long reach can be seen in both Batman and Bond. Green Zone is a sorta amalgamation of Greengrass's true life movies and action flicks and is either a great example of how fictionalized action cinema can be topical or overblown revisionist history... depending of course.
Bourne, not Green
Despite this latest stumble (if it is a stumble) I'm glad we have Paul Greengrass out there making action films for adults and activist films with just the right touch. His next project according to IMDb is They Marched Into Sunlight, a parallel telling of a 1967 Viet Cong ambush and Dow Chemicals protest. Looks like more of the same from Greengrass. But I mean that in a good way. I like that Paul Greengrass knows what he does best and plans to keep doing it. He does it better than most. No need for him to shake things up... any more than he already does.