“The point of films is to entertain, to take people to places they’ve not been to and make them think about the world. So, what do you want to give an audience? You have to give them a great Bourne movie. What does that mean? It means another chapter in a book that people love. ”
In the world of action choreography, chase sequences and intricate switchbacks, the Bourne films—with their innovative story and structure—have set a new standard for an entire genre. For almost 10 years, audiences have demanded Greengrass and Damon reunite for another chapter that is equal parts intellect, espionage and action, and now, Jason Bourne is here at last!
A lot has happened in the world since operative Jason Bourne went off the grid at the end of 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum—and it’s precisely the passage of time that has allowed for his return.
Greengrass says: “We find Bourne on the Greek/Macedonian border, and he’s conflicted, restless, and we don’t know why. So, what’s happened to Bourne in the last 10 years and why has he not found any peace? Our story will follow what he needs to do in order to try and find it.”
Damon expands: “What we come to find out is that he did gain his freedom. He did liberate himself from this Jason Bourne identity, but that hasn’t brought him any peace. He’s an incredibly tortured soul, and you find him in a very dark place at the beginning of the movie.”
Almost two decades ago, a brilliant young soldier volunteered for an experimental special-ops program after he was told that terrorists killed his father. He was promised he could honor his family and country by evolving an already impressive intellect, deft agility and adaptable skillset into the unimaginable.
It was all a lie.
Subjected to brutal training he doesn’t remember by people he couldn’t then identify, the elite-trained assassin who came to be called Jason Bourne was molded into a $100 million human weapon who, according to his designers, malfunctioned.
When Bourne tracked his makers to learn their end game, they tried to erase him and took away the only woman he ever loved. Once he found revenge, learned his real identity and what he believed was the goal of his creators’ campaign, Bourne felt a semblance of peace and vanished…for what he hoped was forever.
Once a new program is activated—one developed by a global power structure more intricate and duplicitous than in the period of superpowers from which Bourne was created—he is flushed out of hiding by an instantly malleable network that is more dangerous than any individual government. The singular goal of this power nexus is to manipulate terror, technology and insurgency to fit its end game.
While his pursuers believe Bourne will come in for reconditioning if they deliver him what he most desires, the most elite weapon ever designed knows what his trackers cannot grasp: even broken soldiers defend the innocent from those with unchecked power.
Filmmakers had long sought the precise confluence of socio-political events that would provide the iconic Bourne with the right global stage that could further his story, and these started to align in 2014.
Producer Frank Marshall—who’s been aboard the Bourne team from the first film—says: “We finally came up with a story that is current and relevant to justify Bourne coming back. Paul, Chris, Matt and all the rest of us have been discussing these possible stories and finally, one hit. One of the things that most concerned us was not just having another movie, another sequel to the last Bourne, but having a shift in the modern world that was relevant…which would then inspire us into telling a new story.
“We all felt that the world has changed dramatically and inspired us to come up with a timely story that applies to what’s happening today,” the producer continues. “This series is special to me, because I was there at the start of that germ of an idea, where we took Robert Ludlum’s first book—it was a Cold War story at first—and made it come to life in a 21st century world. It’s exciting to me to be on the fifth one, and still have it be relevant and to know that filmgoers are still eager to see where Bourne is going to go.”
Producer Gregory Goodman says that what Greengrass and his longtime collaborator, Christopher Rouse, created in their screenplay was not only timely, it was propulsive: “I believe that waiting was a very good thing, because it gives the movie a chance to speak to much more serious issues and to be honest. A lot of the paranoia and concerns that were brought up in the previous films seems almost naïve compared to what we’re dealing with in a post-Snowden, WikiLeaks world—along with a sense that there actually is a secret government running separately from us. What I find compelling is that even the so-called bad guys have a valid argument. It’s clear to me as a citizen, separate from this film, that we as a society have difficult choices we need to make about balancing our need for security and safety with our need for transparency and privacy. This film touches on that, but in the context of an adrenaline-filled action picture.”
On the enduring popularity of the character he brought to life, Matt Damon comments: “We love him just as much as everybody else, and we were leery of putting the cart before the horse and making another Bourne movie before we were ready with a good story—it was a case of waiting for the world to change a bit. Paul and I would talk constantly, and the one thing that I always said was that I’d do it if he would. We would talk about projects all the time, and we made another movie together in the interim. Every few months, it seemed like we would have a Bourne conversation, but we couldn’t seem to get anywhere until about 18 months ago.”
The obvious issue to tackle first was, “where has Bourne been all this time?” According to the timeframe established in Ultimatum, the operative walked away at the end of 2004. “So what has he been doing for 12 years and what does his life look like?,” continues Damon. “That was the biggest question to answer, and once we got a bead on that, everything started to fall into place.”
Filmmakers admit that it was the want-to-see of fans that played a large part in this latest installment. But they also admit to the popularity of both their lead actor and the character he so indelibly created. Greengrass notes: “It’s like a family, a Bourne movie. Everybody gets back. I love it. Most people didn’t think it would happen, but it did. It’s a bit like a rock band coming back together for a good-old tour—play some new tunes along with some of the classics.”
Goodman agrees with his director: “Matt makes Bourne very relatable as an ‘everyman,’ this protagonist who has found his way into this situation and is struggling to find his truth…a balance in who he is. Additionally, I believe the film’s grittiness and realness stand in contrast to other films in this genre, and that makes people feel like they’re watching something with more gravity. This almost-documentary feel and the relatability of Matt, is compelling and gets people interested.”
Without a riveting storyline to plug the character into, however, Bourne would have remained off the grid, cinematically and otherwise. Damon remarks: “The whole concept of this fourth arena of cyber warfare and what has happened with technology recently, that’s very much in the public consciousness—our digital life, our civil liberties, to what extent people are keeping tabs on us. Bourne finds himself in this new world.”
While the thriller touches on current political issues, certainly a sense of cynicism and weariness the world feels with entrusting people to run our world for us. Goodman explains: “The ensuing years that have elapsed have brought us to a very different place with the way we see the world and our place in it. There has been a lot of trepidation and concern about some of the choices our society has made on a global scale.”
Though clearly the continuation of the story of Bourne and his search for truth, this chapter behaves much more like a stand-alone one. Marshall says: “You immediately fall into Bourne’s previous world—one of espionage and spies, and now, today, with satellites, surveillance and easily accessible information, people are familiar with this world. When audiences understand the world that Jason is in, what he’s trying to do, they will be able to catch up quickly, even if they haven’t seen the previous films. And people know who Jason Bourne is will just want to see what his next move will be and go along for the ride.”
That ride has a great deal to do with who’s in the driver’s seat, and Greengrass knows his way around the character and his world. It’s a fortuitous match of substance and style. Per Greengrass: “Filmmaking is about being true to how you see the world. One of the things you have to do as a director is conduct the orchestra—bring them into some synthesis—and part of what you do as a conductor is to set the tempo, which is bi-fold.
“There is the filming tempo, the tempo at which you shoot,” the director continues. “Crews like it when it’s purposeful and things are cracking on and purposeful. There’s also the inner tempo of the movie—shot by shot, what’s the tempo there? Is everybody moving fast enough or are they moving too fast? Is the dynamic of the coordination of camera and sound and performance and scene—is that all delivering a tempo that’s about right? So watching that and getting it set early on is an important part of what you’re trying to do.”
It is this dynamic that both challenges and draws talent to Greengrass’ projects. “Actors have to be on their toes. They have to know their lines and what they’re talking about, because Paul likes to do things in real time and over long takes,” observes Marshall. “There are a lot of pages, so it’s a challenge for the actors, but it really works because they are in the moment. We get a lot of footage that actually feels real.”
Stylistic discussion aside, Damon drives home a point when he says: “At the end of the day, the No. 1 reason that we made the movie was because people wanted to see it. Every airport I’m in, or every time I’m walking down the street and somebody stops me, that’s the first question: ‘Are you going to do another Bourne movie?’ So it’s exciting on one hand, but there’s also a lot of pressure on the other, because you want it to be of a piece with the other films. We’re all extremely proud of the previous three movies, and we want this to fit nicely with them. We’re excited and anxious, and definitely feeling the pressure—but we feel like we know what it is that audiences like about these movies, and we are doing our best to deliver a good one.
He pauses: “I’m sure I’ll always be associated with this role, no matter what else I do—you do something four separate times in your career, and it’s going to follow you around. But I don’t mind being followed by this one, because I really like Jason Bourne.”
Continuing upon this theme, Greengrass says: “The truth is, we didn’t know what the title was going to be when we started it. It was Untitled Bourne Project when we began writing. Then the studio said, ‘What about calling it Jason Bourne?’ I just thought it was a fantastic idea, because it was classic, but fresh.”
With his core team back together, Marshall remarks: “The character of Jason Bourne is what people respond to. They empathize with him and want to see him get out of these situations. They believe in what he believes in. And if I could have Matt Damon in every movie I work on, I’d be happy. He’s a genuine, kind, gentle and wonderful human being, and a professional, collaborative actor with a great sense of humor.”
Production wrapped, Greengrass reflects on the journey he began more than a decade ago: “The point of films is to entertain, to take people to places they’ve not been to and make them think about the world. So, what do you want to give an audience? You have to give them a great Bourne movie. What does that mean? It means another chapter in a book that people love. It’s got to have a lot of things that feel familiar, and part of the world has got to be true to the Bourne world you’ve set up. You’ve got to have fresh characters, fresh situations, a new story that builds on the existing. So that’s what we set out to do, and I feel that’s where we have arrived, in the end.”