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20 Things We Learned From Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Supremacy Commentary

By  · Published on March 2nd, 2016

Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures

They said it could never happen, but this year sees the return of Jason Bourne with star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass in tow. The creatively titled Jason Bourne hits theaters July 29th, and as a fan of both The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum I couldn’t be happier.

Greengrass took the reins from Doug Liman for both sequels, and while the Bloody Sunday director may have seemed like an odd choice at the time his skill and hand-held style helped build the films into a billion dollar-plus franchise. His commentary for The Bourne Supremacy is (probably?) his first such track.

Keep reading to see what I heard on The Bourne Supremacy commentary.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

Commentator: Paul Greengrass (director)

1. The first film revealed to Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) that he was a contract killer, “so the second story needed to deal with the consequences of that. What could Jason Bourne do with the knowledge that he was a killer. How could he engage with life if there was blood on his hands?” This led them to an opening showing the shards of his broken memory and his new life far away from those past sins.

2. The choice to find Bourne in Goa, India was made before Greengrass came aboard the project, but he approved.”It was somewhere where you would imagine Jason Bourne would go and hide if he found that Europe was too small.”

Universal Pictures

3. “The memory book was an idea that was around a long time,” he says, as a way to visually display Bourne’s confusion and pain.

4. Pamela Landy in essence replaces the character of Conklin (Chris Cooper) from the first film, and Greengrass wanted Joan Allen for the role “because Chris Cooper, he’s many things as an actor, but above all he’s a classy actor.” He wanted to replace one classy actor with another to maintain an integrity.

5. He cast Karl Urban as Kirill because they wanted an actor who looked “charismatic and immediately compelling, so that in the midst of this classic espionage operation you would have a suddenly youthful and contemporary figure walk across the stage and grab your attention. And that’s what Karl certainly did.”

6. He thinks the first chase scene “sets the style of this film which, you know, arises out of Doug [Liman’s] style for the first movie, but I suppose it’s a little more fluid perhaps, a little more intensely immediate.” He wanted to keep viewers with Bourne as much as possible in the physical sense. “When he runs we run, when he escapes in a jeep we’re in the jeep with him.”

7. The scene where Bourne and Marie (Franka Potente) crash their jeep into the river required the actors to shoot inside the car while twelve feet under water. “A total nightmare,” says Greengrass. “All you have to do is hold your breath and try and act.”

8. He discussed with Damon the idea of Bourne’s possible military background influencing his goodbye moment to Marie where he burns her photographs and identification. “There was always the possibility of a salute at this point, almost as if he would salute his fallen comrade before picking up on his journey, which would be a journey of revenge.”

Universal Pictures

9. Scenes of confrontation require evenly matched adversaries, and “I think that Brian [Cox] and Joan in this scene you’ve got two perfectly matched actors with contrasting styles.”

10. The opening to the interrogation scene at the Naples airport was Damon’s idea. “I love the proposition of this scene, where in essence he was playing possum. The audience knows that even if you don’t know it consciously you know that he is one concealed ball of energy.”

11. The scene where Bourne punches the two men at the airport saw him accidentally connect with the actor playing Agent Nevins (Tim Griffin) and actually lay him out. “When he came around he said ‘Did you get in on camera?’ I thought he’d of broken his nose or something because it was a hell of a whack, but it works. Made the scene look real.”

12. He wanted the fight scene between Bourne and the only other remaining Treadstone operative “to be like a cruel and vicious ballet. There was something very pristine about the fight in the first film, which was wonderful, but I wanted this fight to be messier and more real.”

13. Fight choreographer Jeff Imada (They Live, Hanna) came up with the idea of Bourne using a rolled-up magazine as a weapon. “It was an absolutely brilliant and very Bourne-esque touch.”

14. He wanted the Berlin street protest to be non-specific aside from being something about the divisions in the world “between us and them.” It’s a student protest over tuition fees.

15. “James Bond embodies a value system. He’s an insider, he loves the secrecy of it, he loves being a secret agent, he kills without remorse or regret, and in fact often he rather enjoys it and finds it humorous. He’s an imperialist, he’s a misogynist, he’s a man who worships at the altar of technology, and in the end he protects authority.” Greengrass probably won’t be directing a James Bond film anytime soon, but seeing as this was recorded in 2005 I’m curious where he stands on the Daniel Craig Bond films.

16. Tony Gilroy’s original treatment for this film featured “three pillars.” The first was Marie’s death, the second was Bourne’s recovered memory of killing the Russian couple, and the third was his journey to visit the couple’s daughter at the end. Every other element shifted and changed throughout pre-production, but those elements always remained.

17. Greengrass says “Bourne again” at the 1:08:53 mark. Sadly it’s not in regard to a proposed sequel title.

18. He thanks producer Frank Marshall for being a helpful, experienced, guiding hand. “My world was the world of small films, independent films, small little European things that could be made for the cost of the catering budget on The Bourne Supremacy.”

19. Bourne’s arrival in Moscow was the first thing they shot for the film. “I wanted it to be the Moscow that I know, not the Moscow of the Cold War, but the new Moscow which is an exhilarating, exuberant, conflicted, and exciting city.” The scene where Bourne rings the Neski girl’s doorbell though was actually filmed in Berlin.

20. They tried a few different endings in an attempt at keeping Bourne alive along with “the sense of Bourne as an iconic character forever destined to struggle for the truth, forever destined to hide from authority.” It was Damon’s idea to end on an “upbeat” note, Greengrass wanted some information imparted, and Marshall insisted that it not end cynically. “And somewhere as a group, we got to this.”

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Final Thoughts

Greengrass’ commentary moves between being informative and detailed and being little more than a narration of events onscreen. It’s more of the former as the film plays on, thankfully, but he also disappears from it periodically and goes silent. To be fair, I did the same more than once and found myself ignoring the commentary to watch the various action scenes. This was his first studio film, and his attraction to film making is clear, but interestingly, he never says anything on the track hinting towards the third Bourne film either as a simple story continuation or as a job he’d like to get.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.