Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Paul Greengrass - Genius Film maker

Fifteen years ago I watched a film that changed my life, enhanced my life views and left me spellbound. That film was "Bloody Sunday" and a lifelong fan appreciation of the genius of Paul Greengrass has followed.

Eight feature films later, my fandom and appreciation of Paul Greengrass knows no bounds, directing three fantastic Jason Bourne franchise movies, one of the tensest and most nerve wrecking cinematic experiences I have ever had the perverse pleasure of (United 93) and the gripping and utterly brilliant Green Zone. There is one cinematic release absent from this appreciation, Paul's 1989 film Resurrected. I have tried in vain to secure a copy of this film for some time, so nudge nudge, wink wink, to anyone out there in Internet land should you have a copy!

In addition to writing both United 93 and Bloody Sunday, Paul has also written and directed numerous shorts and TV movies including exposes' for World in Action and a short film on the murder of Stephen Lawrence. However, as with all my film blogs I am specifically appraising his cinematic releases, and list the following eight films in chronological order for your delectation.

It is not my intention to provide huge spoilers, rather to give an overall flavour as I do not want to spoil these great films for you in any way. Moreover, this blog is an appreciation of the film's crafted by a wonderful Director and a thorough recommendation to suspend your disbelief and enjoy these creations.

I've also tried to write these reviews/appraisals in a fresh, different way, by specialising on a particular scene or character or theme of the film, thereby negating the need for spoilers or a detailed narrative account of the film. I love these films and hope you enjoy my "take" on them.

The Theory of Flight (1998)

"A lack of talent never stopped anyone"

A BBC films productions written by Richard Dawkins, after minimal opening credits we are immediately transported to a swooping crane shot of the English countryside, and of "Richard" (Kenneth Branagh) as a fighter jet roars overhead. Several quickly edited shots of Richard follow, of both flashbacks and present day, with Branagh narrating his life to date, his regrets, his aspirations, his dreams, how he got here and of his challenges and desires for the future. Standing atop an office building in central London, Richard is convinced he can fly and despite the protestations from his girlfriend "Julie" (Holly Aird) he throws himself off the rooftop, crashing into the police safety crash mat below.

Found guilty and forced to commence community service, Richard meets "Jane" (Helena Bonham Carter), slowly dying from Motor Neurone disease. And what follows is a joy of a film! Caustically funny in places, darkly humoured in others, this is a sweet natured take on a very serious subject but one that balances the serious with the sweet perfectly.

Helena Bonham Carter is superb as the cruelly afflicted Jane, every flick, touch and eye gesture is brilliantly done and often underplayed and subtle too. Extremely funny and desperate to rebel, she finds her soul mate (in so many ways) with Richard. A dreamer and rebel too, throwing off the shackles of his old life to build his aeroplane, he wants to confirm to himself more than anyone else that flight is possible. Branagh is great support to Bonham Carter as the bumbling but affable Richard. His portrayal of someone dropping out of life, yet following a lifetime's ambition will resonate with more of us than we care to admit. Their dual scenes together, especially as we follow their extremely funny exploits via a Museum, a Fairground, shopping and a remote car ride are excellent. When not together, their lives are spliced together to great effect.

Any more would give away too much of a simple, straight forward plot but suffice to say it is a superb film and very well helmed by Director Greengrass. Any twists/story are fairly obvious, but that's to miss the point of the story overall, and of the great, yet criminally under appreciated performance from Helena Bonham Carter. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be captivated, riveted and utterly absorbed by her portrayal, heartbreaking though it is. A dual scene with Richard early on in the film is brilliantly portrayed. Rarely using her computer keypad voice simulator (her voice is failing) yet on the first occasion she does it breaks the heart. An unusual request sets the ball rolling for a quirky and darkly funny film. A typical English style orchestral musical score from Rolfe Kent accompanies the film, as do some terrific choices of soundtrack, from Van Morrison's "Right Side of the Road", John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me" through to The Specials "It's You". 

Dedicated to Jane Hatchard (1971-1997) "Our Lives maybe easier. But they will never be as full". A suitable and highly prescient epitaph. 

Bloody Sunday (2002)

"We will march peacefully this Sunday. And March. And March again"

Derry, Northern Ireland and sporadic gun fire shatters the night sky. It's 30th January 1972, 17 days before this writers own introduction into the world. The scenes leading to the gunfire encapsulate the film as a whole, of contradiction and of juxtaposition, of scenes of peace and tranquillity set against scenes of carnage and mindless aggression. Bloody Sunday claimed the lives of 13 people, mostly teenagers, a further 14 wounded and is another stain on the British/English character. Paul Greengrass' film is heavily slanted in favour of the peaceful civil rights activists and rightly so, but from a cinematic viewpoint, the key ingredient is the juxtaposition throughout.

The opening scenes demonstrate this perfectly, with "Ivan Cooper" (James Nesbitt) a local MP and Civil Rights Activist first seen addressing a small rally, preaching peace and a determination to push for realised civil rights for all. This is juxtaposed against a press conference for "Major General Ford" (Tim Piggott-Smith) confirming his army's tough, no nonsense stance for the impending march. Supported by a large cast, stand out performances are also provided by Kathy Kiera Clarke as "Frances", Christopher Villiers as "Major Steele" and Nicholas Farrell as "Brigadier Maclellan" amongst many, many others.

The juxtaposition theme runs throughout this astonishing film. From the brown, sepia tinged decor of the houses and offices to the sporadic gunfire outside, the gentle home life and romance, to preparing for a peaceful march with your friends. The army are depicted as a psyched up, ready for battle bridgade (including Paratroopers and Snipers) against a backdrop of a peaceful Derry population in the main going about their daily business. It struck me immediately when I originally watched this film ten years ago how the army were dressed and ready for battle and on re-watching it is even more staggeringly depicted than when I first watched. Battle fatigues, heavily armed, boot polished faces and in large numbers wherever the camera is pointed. The film has three main narrative strands all running concurrently, and to continue the theme, are all juxtaposed against each other. The peaceful march and the lead up to it (where Nesbitt shines as Ivan Cooper), the continual army preparation and the army situation room all run together throughout the film. As perma smiling Cooper, Nesbitt is superb and even his own persona has an honest duality. The smile masks anxiety for the march, for the safety of his friends, constituents and family. A smile and kiss for his parents as he proclaims "Just a Sunday afternoon stroll" belies his hidden fears, the pressures of a large crowd of people wanting to speak to him constantly, his inability to control everything, even his romance or attempted romance, with Frances. A key early scene sees their relationship at breaking point, yet even their quietest time together is fractured and constantly broken by a ringing telephone. Preparing for the march and drumming up local support as he walks the streets of his constituency, Cooper has a smile for everyone with a joke or two thrown in which is starkly juxtaposed against an intense military presence all around him. Contrast this with the later scenes, of the devastation and murder as Cooper retraces his steps on a similar walk just a few hours earlier. It's truly heart breaking.

The soldiers themselves are in the main shown as violent aggressors, pumped up and awaiting the battle, "everyone that side of the wall is an enemy" as one proclaims and as already described, are heavily armed. Juxtapose this with the protesters throwing rocks and stones, the army retaliates with water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas before using live rounds of ammunition. Within the army's situation room there is a clearly stated and concerted effort to be aggressive and to win the media "war" that will ensue. There is a very "British" behaviour, a might is right attitude, references to hooligans and thugs despite it being a peaceful march for civil rights. This is perfectly encapsulated by the exclamation "The hooligans will be caught in a pincer movement" during a high level briefing. 

The juxtapositions continue throughout the film, both openly and sometimes subtly too. Cooper, addressing the march as it progresses preaches peace and invokes Gandhi and Martin Luther King whilst not two hundred yards away, a splinter group is attacking and being forcibly attacked by the army. During his long walk of the streets early in the film, Cooper speaks with a (presumed) member of the IRA or at the least an opposition member intent on violence, yet Cooper can see only peaceful non co-operation as opposed to violence. The violence he sees is but yards away, dressed in battle fatigues. One subtle, even lighter juxtaposition again involves Cooper as he begins his walk from home, the cinema opposite showing a double bill of "The Magnificent Seven" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

The only music contained within the film comes during the closing credits, a famous U2 live version of  "Sunday Bloody Sunday" which continues as the screen fades to black for the remaining two minutes of actual screen time. Director Greengrass deserves great credit for providing an absolutely stunning recreation of the events of that infamous day and the lives it wrecked. Early trademarks of his later films are evident when re-watching, of his frantic cutting (here to pure blank slides), of his love for obscure and oblique camera angles and for crucial exposition coming from talking heads scenes that are well shot (using those obscure camera angles of course!) and well acted. Again on re-watching, it was evident that all this was in place, but the key in this film was the one long camera shot to aid the usual two camera, talking heads shot. Here, there is often only one camera left on the actors as the scene is played out, but the camera never moves, the sound is somewhat indistinct at times, and this is used throughout the three narrative strands. What is evident, and brilliantly done, is the close in camera, right in the middle of the action and cameras that are constantly moving, shaking, involving you as the audience almost to participate, get involved and be a part of the action. The camera work is a marvel.

107 minutes of a wonderful film which was also written by Director Greengrass inspired by the book "Eyewitness Bloody Sunday" by Don Mullan. He is also hugely indebted to Ivan Strasberg (Cinematography) and Clare Douglas (Editing). And a certain James Nesbitt who is just brilliant.

So many dead from a peaceful march for civil liberties and freedom says it all. The film is still affecting ten years after release, and forty years since that terrible day. As is famously sung on a number of occasions in the film "We Shall Overcome. We Shall Overcome. We Shall Overcome, Someday". Amen.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

"This is not a drill, soldier"

Beginning with several brief yet blurred flashbacks and amidst a nightmare, we are given a little information on "Jason Bourne" (Matt Damon). Rather than give a brief premise to this particular Bourne film, the second of the continuing series, perhaps this is an opportune time to start with further detailed background on Jason Bourne himself. A programmed intelligence soldier, recruited and working for the CIA in their Black Operation "Treadstone", Bourne continues to try to piece his life back together. Suffering from amnesia as a result of his deep psychological programming, this film picks up from the original Bourne film, The Bourne Identity, which was helmed by Doug Liman in 2002. Matt Damon again stars as Bourne, with Paul Greengrass now on directing duties.

Based on the original novel by Robert Ludlum (with screenplay again provided by Tony Gilroy), for the uninitiated, the Bourne franchise has been compared to that of the James Bond series of films. More grittier but equally as stylish as the Bond series, the similarity between the two series also extends to numerous locations throughout the film(s). Here, Goa in India is brilliantly depicted as a cosmopolitan colour of busy streets and tranquil beaches and further destinations are richly detailed and include Langley, London, Moscow, Amsterdam, Munich and Berlin amongst others.

Similarly with the Bond series, there are concurrent narrative strands running throughout the film. Here, the strands are stripped down to two main stories, of Bourne trying to piece his life back together, to make sense of who he is, why he's the way he is and how he can escape his past and move on with his future. Next to this is the CIA's continuing Black Operations, all of which are frenetically cut back and forth between the operational centre in Langley and the operation itself. Here, both the Director and his two Editors, Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse excel. The Editors in particular deserve special praise as the film is cut so often, so precisely and from multiple cameras as to disorientate the audience yet immerse you in the action and urge you to pay attention and keep up with the story as it unfolds. Another similar trait to the James Bond series. Interwoven throughout are also numerous flashbacks of a Bourne slowly recovering tiny and very brief fragments of his memory.

The Bourne series is famous for it's violent, special forces training, hand to hand combat and frenetic car chases, and this film is no exception as it excels in all. With credit again due to both Editors and Director Greengrass, both the combat and chase sequences are constantly cut from numerous cameras, with cameras right inside the numerous chasing vehicles and right "inside" the fight sequences themselves. As an audience, you are never far from the action. As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon stars in the first of his three collaborations with Director Greengrass so far, and being both firm friends and fans of the art of cinema I expect and eagerly await many more collaborations in the future. Always front and centre, and quite literally in many scenes as he's shot right in the middle of the frame, Damon is excellent throughout. Writing this retrospectively that shouldn't surprise anyone as Matt Damon has shown from his very first film what an accomplished actor he is, and he excels again here.

Reprising their roles from the original Bourne film are Franka Potente as Bourne's girlfriend "Marie", the excellent as always Julia Stiles as "Nicky" and similarly Brian Cox as CIA Chief "Ward Abbott". CIA Deputy Chief "Pamela Landy" is brilliantly portrayed by Joan Allen and Karl Urban stars in a cameo role as "Kirill". The stand out scenes from the supporting cast are supplied by Brian Cox and Joan Allen, as CIA Chiefs butting heads, trying to assert authority over the other and is both brilliantly written and directed throughout. Together with the flashback sequences, the two main narrative strands often collide together with a continuing narration from one scene to the other, which is both engaging and drives the film forward. Very much a character story which is adapted very well from the original source material, the chase sequences are the film's true star. Not always via vehicles, however I will use the Moscow chase scene to conclude this minimal spoiler taste of a classic Paul Greengrass film and I highly recommend this, the third film in the cinematic cannon of Paul Greengrass.

Wounded, Bourne makes his escape in a yellow taxi, with Kirill and the Moscow police in pursuit. Cutting between several in car cameras, outside car cameras, street side and overhead cameras, this six minute scene is quite breathless as we see Bourne, pouring alcohol on the fresh wound and picking his way through the single lane Moscow streets, a police transmitter his only guidance and to assist his escape. More unmarked police cars join the pursuit but that's merely a distraction as the in car cameras graphically show the first of three side swipes Bourne has to endure during his escape. Gritty and brilliantly realised, you are quite literally inside the cab of Bourne's escaping vehicle as he turns 270 degrees to avoid capture, then again as Kirill approaches from the side and side swipes Bourne again, this time shown both in car and with a fantastic overhead shot (see third picture above). 

Although both marked and unmarked police cars are still chasing Bourne, it's a duel between himself and Kirill, brilliantly captured in slow motion as they pass each other, each recognising the other, each realising they are dealing with one and the same, a trained assassin, a killer with no compassion. A third crunching side swipe signals their dual entry to a tunnel, and a chaotic chase ensues with destruction and crashes littering their way. Now cutting between the in car cameras of both, the action fully on screen as we jolt and crash (mainly with Bourne) as two further spins within the tunnel aptly demonstrate. A blistering fire fight between the two continues until, with his gun trained on Bourne and the assassins eyeing each other for the final time, Kirill meets a grisly end with a tunnel pillar. Bourne, his gun never wavering from Kirill but limping toward the vehicle sees his combatant bloodied and near death regains some semblance of composure and walks away from the scene, brilliantly captured in a long, lingering silhouette shot.

A brilliant second Bourne series film, with great credit again due to Director Greengrass and his two outstanding editors, Richard Pearson and Christopher Rouse. Almost on a par with the original, and what higher praise can there be than that?

United 93 (2006)

I'll complete this review with the greatest reverence by keeping it short and commenting very little. It's an amazing film of a horrific event that has been burned into the collective consciousness. It's an "our memory" moment during our growing up and putting aside just for a moment that event, that day, the horrific consequences and any dispute over the veracity of the film or the horrific event itself, this piece of cinema still shocks every time I watch. With an ensemble cast of mainly unknown actors and real life Air Traffic Controllers, the Director's hallmarks stamped all over the film. It's a truly terrifying watch at times, claustrophobic, challenging and horrifying.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

"Someone started all this, and I'm gonna find them"

Picking up exactly after the above dissected car chase from the previous film, "Jason Bourne" (Matt Damon), his mind slowly recovering and revealing longer, more detailed accounts of his past via flashbacks is trapped within a basement, trying to tend to his open wounds. The first four scenes (10 minutes total screen time) perfectly encapsulate this film, the third in the Bourne series, and last from leading actor Damon. They all share similar themes. Simple talking heads type scenes, weird and quirky camera angles, characters trying to dominate the scenes and very exposition heavy with intriguing narrative strands. This is far from a criticism, as the following will demonstrate:

MOSCOW: Two Russian Police Officers track down a hiding Jason Bourne trying to treat his injuries and recuperate. Dazed and conflicted by the now lengthy flashbacks, unarmed and in pain, he disarms one Officer and immediately trains the newly acquired firearm on the second Officer. Now with just two cameras and a close up on both Bourne and the remaining Officer, frantic cuts bring the scene to an end with the officer pleading "Please don't kill me" and Bourne's deadpan "My argument is not with you" as he exits.

LANGLEY: With a stand out performance throughout, Joan Allen as "Pamela Landy" is first introduced with typical obscured close ups and oblique angles as we hear the taped conversations of her predecessor, Ward Abbott, with Jason Bourne. Although the room is full with CIA Managers and "Top Brass", we are only concerned with Pamela Landy and her Boss "Ezra Kramer" (Scott Glenn). Kramer is matter of fact, distanced from the case of Jason Bourne, it's repercussions and seemingly frustrated at the embarrassment this will cause the Agency "You couldn't make this stuff up". Continuing with obscured camera shots, especially of Landy, she confirms her plan of action, to the audience as much as her fellow Agents, but reluctantly follows the nondescript, matter of fact orders from Kramer.

TURIN: More obscured and oblique camera angles during this brief talking heads scene. "Simon Ross" (Paddy Considine), an investigative journalist on the trail of Jason Bourne and the important Black Operations of "Treadstone" and "Black Briar" details the evidence he has garnered so far with his source. Only changing the camera angle(s) to present a close up of the tape recorder as Ross places it on the table, immediately back to an obscured source, his face in pain and anguish as he gently instructs Ross to "turn off the tape recorder". A brilliant short scene, underplayed, yet key exposition.

PARIS: The final short talking heads scene is by far the best. Subtle in places, well acted and portrayed. This short scene has everything to propel the remainder of the film. "Martin Kreutz" (Daniel Bruhl) arrives home to find a quiet, unassuming Jason Bourne waiting for him. Initially with longer camera angles, Kreutz approaches Bourne and sits down. Now with primarily just two cameras, one over Kreutz's shoulder at Bourne, one close up on Kreutz, Bourne confirms his sister's death and that he killed her assailant. Before leaving, Bourne also confirms that he's going to end the carnage once and for all. Brilliantly played by both, with Daniel Bruhl just two years away from starring (and astounding) in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds.   

Again, far from being a criticism, this third instalment in the Bourne series of films is almost a replica of Paul Greengrass' The Bourne Supremacy. Stylish and gritty, with smart overhead shots of the locations zooming into the destination itself. Brilliantly edited, this time singularly by Christopher Rouse (a rightful Oscar win for his achievements) and the locations themselves excellently brought to life by Director of Cinematography Oliver Wood. As with all Bourne films, and especially relevant to films helmed by Director Greengrass, it moves at a frantic pace, is engaging and with a story expertly told. John Powell returns with the original music score, as does Moby's eponymous Bourne anthem "Extreme Ways" and Tony Gilroy also returns, credited as both part of the screenplay team along with Scott Z Burns and George Nolfi, and as providing the "screen story". 

The locations for this instalment include Moscow, London, Turin, Paris, Langley and Tangier amongst many others with narrative strands weaving between them all. The key themes synonymous with Bourne films are all here, an intriguing and twisting story, one man's fight for survival against the odds, brilliant and explosive chase scenes coupled with manic editing and cameras right inside both the fight scenes and the chases themselves. However, the stand out scenes are as per above, the "talking heads" scenes that are peppered throughout. Always engaging and always shot from those oft used obscure and oblique angles, the film may be exposition heavy at times, but combined with the frantic action scenes that surrounds them compliment a fantastic film. As well as Christopher Rouse's Oscar for Best Editing the film won two further Oscars for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Suffice to say, Matt Damon excels again and is clearly comfortable both with his role and with his friendship with Director Greengrass. Julia Stiles reprises her role of "Nicky" as does the excellent Joan Allen as "Pamela Landy" and more of her superb performance later. David Strathairn (pictured above) is brilliant as "Noah Vosen", similarly the great Albert Finney, who plays "Dr Albert Hirsch", all of whom are complimented by smart cameos from Paddy Considine as "Simon Ross" and Scott Glenn as "Ezra Kramer"

Joan Allen and David Strathairn's performances stand out, two determined and single minded CIA Chiefs butting heads, secure in the knowledge they are morally right to take the path of their choosing, though damned of the consequences. These performances, and those of their peers, demonstrate that this isn't just a chase film littered with hectic hand to hand battles to the death and car chase sequences. Oh it is, don't get me wrong! It's just so much more than that. Again, yes this is only a film, but as noted in my previous Bourne reviews, there is so much real life truth told here, but I'll leave it up to you as to how much.

Green Zone (2010)

"All they're interested in is finding something they can hold up on CNN"

Inspired by the book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and a screenplay from Brian Helgeland, this is very much Paul Greengrass' take on the opening days of the USA led invasion of Iraq and of their "Shock and Awe" Operation. The opening minutes depict the invasion date of 19th March 2003 and briefly covers the first four weeks of the "war" in typical Greengrass style. Escaping from a burning and under siege Presidential Palace, constant and frantic cuts with numerous cameras inside the action and similarly frenetic cuts as we follow a fire fight to secure an Iraqi town, to tracer fire and explosions lighting the night sky of Baghdad, the tension and utter devastation is vividly brought to life immediately. In addition to the Director, it is perhaps an opportune time to congratulate his cinematic collaborators, as Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd and Production Designer Dominic Watkins deserve great credit for their respective expertise in shooting and designing the devastated Iraqi towns, the bustling streets, Presidential Palaces and the Green Zone itself. There is clearly an obsessive eye from both. With original music from regular collaborator John Powell, it's another regular collaborator, Editor Christopher Rouse who again deserves the plaudits as he excels again, his quick and often quirky jump cuts always propelling the film forward and as ever, stamping the Director's mark and trademark style all over this triumph of a film. The long, slow crane shots and overhead shots of the city often dissolve into the city itself and as with Greengrass' other films, these are always sublime and dare I say it, masterful now. Always brilliant in his other films, here they are truly sublime.

Matt Damon, in his third collaboration with Director Greengrass plays "Miller" or "Chief" as he's affectionately called, sometimes not so! Tasked with finding the "WMD" or Weapons of Mass Destruction, his frustration is clear early on as he and his team again "come up empty", this being "the third straight time". 

The scene is set very early on that this is far from a simple account of the ill fated invasion or indeed a stereotypical war film depiction. Was the actual event a "war" or just a "conflict" or indeed simply an "invasion"? These questions and more are tackled here and perhaps this is a reason for the film's lukewarm reception as it's clearly (in this writer's mind, and rightly so) a criticism of the invasion and the media manipulation that ensued. Perhaps it's telling that the only use of actual stock footage from the war/conflict/invasion is President George W Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Nearly ten years since the invasion and that speech the war rages on, thousands of lives lost and a sovereign country is decimated and in ruins. 

This film aptly portrays the CIA/Pentagon infighting for control of the invasion, of the media manipulation of events and of a more responsible side to our trusted carriers of truth and investigative journalism. It's a gritty, realistic film of the soldiers themselves, the "boots on the ground", doing their jobs in the harshest of situations against unimaginable odds and likely scenarios of chemical warfare attack and a local population fiercely against the occupation of their country, their sovereign nation. This is also brilliantly realised and juxtaposed against the opulence and serenity of the now occupied Presidential Palaces and the Green Zone itself, of relaxation, music and swimming pools, with Miller's team walking amongst this in their dirty battle fatigues, tired and wondering aloud "these guys got Domino's pizza and fucking beers?". The juxtaposition is key throughout the film, the destroyed Iraqi towns against a backdrop of media conferences and telephone conference calls, the internal CIA/Pentagon disputes conflicting with the soldiers simply carrying out their orders.

As with all Paul Greengrass films, the talking heads scenes are key, giving both key exposition to the audience, and introducing us to further key characters in the story. I've chosen two such key scenes below, and briefly give a flavour for it's background.
A short key scene, with Pentagon Special Intelligence Officer "Clark Poundstone" (Greg Kinnear) spinning the Pentagon view of the war and butting heads as he does so with CIA Agent "Martin Brown" (Brendan Gleeson). Both are on superb form as the temperature and their dialogue rises, each fiercely defending and extolling their viewpoints to their gathered audience. From multiple cameras we fade to two cameras, both over the other's shoulders, again giving a trademark Greengrass' type obscured view of the other. CIA Agent Brown is apoplectic at the apparent lack of regard for the complexities of faith and religion within Iraq, finally asking Poundstone, "Have you any idea what's happening outside the Green Zone? It's chaos". Poundstone, looking tired with the debate states tellingly "Democracy is messy" before reiterating louder "DEMOCRACY IS MESSY".

Another key talking heads scene follows a playful preamble alongside the Green Zone swimming pool. Trademark talking heads shot from over each shoulder:

"Does it make sense to you we're still coming up empty?"

"No. No it doesn't"

Introduced in the above exchange is a brilliant Amy Ryan as "Lawrie Dayne", a Wall Street Journal reporter and she heads a stellar supporting cast including Jason Isaacs as a belligerent "Briggs" and Khalid Abdalla as "Freddy", the film's underrated star. Biased I may be but this film is far better, more stylish and more deserving of praise than it receives but the portrayal of the invasion is far too vivid and far too critical to be celebrated as it should be. A politically motivated slant on what constitutes a flop? Probably. It's another gem of a Paul Greengrass film for me but I am rather biased.

Captain Phillips (2013)

"Irish, it's only us now"

The opening eight minutes of this 134 minute thriller introduces the basic premise of yet another Paul Greengrass spectacular recreation of a real life event. Based on the book "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy Seals and Dangerous Days at Sea" by Richard Phillips, we are introduced to "Captain Richard Phillips" (Tom Hanks) as he meticulously prepares and packs at his suburban home in Vermont USA, in March 2009. He is packing and ready to leave for the airport to return to work, as Captain of a Merchant Marine Cargo Ship sailing around the Horn of Africa. During the car journey to the airport with his wife "Andrea Phillips" (Catherine Keener) their minimal discussion and early story exposition hints at the drama to unfold before us as they discuss the ever changing world around us, of increased competition, yet diminished opportunities and the increased determination and desire to compete and succeed in today's world. Phillips often refers to the parallels with life at sea on board a commercial cargo ship.

Cut to the sparse, barren and sun baked desert of Somalia and the numerous eager and determined young men, all would be 21st Century pirates, desperately seeking work, a way out, a means of escape from this desolate, isolated desert by the sea and for a way of earning money to leave the appalling shacks they call home. "Abduwali Muse" (Barkhad Abdi) is roused from his sleep within his run down shack and quickly joins the mass of young men as the village Elders arrive demanding to know why no-one is working and two crews of four men are quickly formed, leaving in ostensibly simple, small and ramshackle fishing boats or "skiffs", each armed only with an AK47.


As with all Paul Greengrass films one of his greatest triumphs is taking a real life story and painstakingly recreating it with such detail and realism whilst still producing a commercially viable and tension filled cinematic experience. There are many parallels to be drawn with 2002's Bloody Sunday but even starker parallels can be made with the harrowing 2006 classic United 93. Both were filmed within a few years of the horrendous real life events but that is a simple and evident truth. Moreover, both United 93 and Captain Phillips starkly portray both sides of the event itself evenly, with gripping realism and heightened tension filling each and every scene. On one level they are both stories depicting frustrated individuals perverting the perceived status quo, but what Paul Greengrass continually does throughout his films is to question why and attempt to colour the reasoning's behind such desperate actions. On one level again it is a simple story of four would be pirates attempting to hijack a cargo ship or it's simply one Captain and his struggle to maintain control of his ship. Or it could be argued that it's a story of a now globalised world and the valuable shipping lanes that are intrinsic to carrying unimaginably vast cargoes and a blot on the landscape this provides to the indigenous local  people living in abject poverty who are losing their traditional methods of earning a living. Whilst the Western world thrives, these local "tribes" continue to live in poverty. What's key to me is from the outset Greengrass depicts the juxtaposition between the leafy, affluent suburbs of the USA against heartbreaking poverty and desperate living conditions of the Somali desert. Both of these worlds run concurrently, yet thousands of miles apart but they may as well be thousands of worlds apart.

All Greengrass trademarks are here to the fore, the picture is admirably fresh and pin prick clear and the wide shots of the ocean and coastline(s) are an absolute joy and due deference should be made to regular collaborator and Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd. But the real achievement is the frenetic, tension building editing as even with the simplest of scenes we are transported blindingly quickly from character to character and event to event and returning collaborator Christopher Rouse deserves great credit for his editing skills again and was fully deserving of his nomination for Best Achievement in Film Editing at the 2014 Oscars. No stone is left unturned as the Director shows us the inner workings of the ship, the crew "shooting the shit" and a Captain's calm exterior masking his inner turmoil.

But Greengrass' greatest achievement here was a simple one as he shrewdly kept his two main protagonists apart until their initial and pivotal first scene together aboard the cargo ship. As viewers we can see the hyper realism from both Hanks and Abdi as they see each other for the first time and begin their film long battle of wills and battle for supremacy of the ship, with each continually reiterating to the other at various points "I am the Captain" and trying to assert their supposed authority and gain the upper hand. Even before this key first scene together we see a striking shot of both men, both of whom watching the other through their respective binoculars and it's a portent of things to come, which is heightened still further in the cramped confines of the lifeboat with Captain Phillips trying to make sense of the situation whilst still trying to be the Captain and almost befriending his captor. They have parallel lives to a degree and despite the awful situation both continue to reiterate "everything is ok".

Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) Hanks portrays a calm, assured cargo ship Captain brilliantly, meticulously planning both at home through to commanding his ship in the same fashion. Every attention to detail is paid and planned for, an experienced Captain calmly in control of his ship and his crew. Here he constantly puts himself forward and on the line for his crew with a constant refrain of "I am the Captain" and even during the tense lifeboat scenes he still tries to manage every situation even against the stiffest of odds. And he acts his arse off in the final act of this magnificent film! This is why Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors of our generation.

Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) Somali born but now a naturalised USA resident, Abdi fully deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his first substantial major role. It is a performance of such intensity that needs to be seen to be believed in every sense of the word. From his introduction as he sleeps in his appalling desert shack to asserting his desperate authority whilst a gun is pointed at his head, to the eponymous scene aboard the ship pointing at Captain Phillips and demanding his eye contact "look at me.......look at me. I'm the Captain now". A stunning performance from someone so inexperienced. "It's just business, Irish". That's as maybe, and Barkhad Abdi has far more Hollywood business to conduct in the future.

Jason Bourne (2016)

"I remember. I remember everything"

Officially the fifth film in the Jason Bourne franchise, this is the third re-teaming of Director Greengrass with Matt Damon in the titular role as Bourne. Five years previously, The Bourne Legacy was released without any involvement from either the Director or Star, the first occasion this has occurred in the franchise's 15 year history and as such the Tony Gilroy directed, Jeremy Renner starring film, whilst an excellent film, remains an outsider in the Bourne family. Here, nine years since Greengrass and Damon last collaborated in the Bourne franchise with The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, they are back together with a story very much of it's time. Set in the present day and referencing hacking, internet leaks, Edward Snowden and an all pervading world of constant surveillance, "Jason Bourne" (Matt Damon) still has a fractured mind from his CIA/Black Operations training of yesteryear however this is breaking down slowly but very surely and with the many taglines of the film, he now remembers everything. Currently a bare knuckle fighter, we first encounter Bourne in Greece where he is quickly contacted by old colleague "Nicky Parsons" (a returning Julie Stiles) who has further information on previous Black Operations projects Blackbriar and Treadstone and with numerous other projects at risk of exposure, CIA Director "Robert Dewey" (Tommy Lee Jones) and CIA Operative "Heather Lee" (Alicia Vikander) order the assassination of both of their rogue agents by their "Asset" (Vincent Cassel). Set against the backdrop of the modern day uprising and anti austerity riots in Greece and culminating in an incredible car chase sequence through the roads of Las Vegas, sandwiched in between is a further narrative strand prescient to today's world with the CIA/State involvement of a new Internet Service Provider platform "Deep Dream" and their covert funding of the inventor "Aaron Kalloor" (Riz Ahmed). Going against script, Kalloor signifies one of the film's outstanding through lines, that of being free from outside interference by proclaiming that "Freedom is worth protecting" thus putting his life and his invention under threat. As with all Bourne films our hero travels the globe in search of the truth and finally solace and peace from his fractured mind, taking in Greece, Iceland, Italy, Germany and England amongst many other destinations before returning "home" in the film's tense denouement.

Based on the books of Robert Ludlum with a screenplay from Director Greengrass and Christopher Rouse, all aspects of a Bourne story are here, from the tight script and frenetic editing by Christopher Rouse behind the scenes to good individual performances and Bourne tropes in front of the camera. There are tight, tense hand to hand combats, continual flashbacks to Bourne's past and his memory returning, through to flashes between the action in the real world and the CIA directing operations from afar. While a worthy addition to the Bourne franchise, this feels like a full stop and a resolution of the story in every sense and well directed by Greengrass, the weakest in the series to date.

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