After writing all three of the "Bourne" spy movies, Tony Gilroy stepped up to direct the next one.
It's rare for a film series to pull off a successful trilogy. Making it to four without sputtering out under the weight of studio demands and fan expectations is almost unheard of. But that's writer/director Tony Gilroy's goal for "The Bourne Legacy," which opens Friday.
Gilroy scripted the three previous installments in the mega-successful Jason Bourne spy franchise, moving on to write and direct "Michael Clayton," and earning Oscar nominations in both categories. Then "Bourne" star Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, who helmed the second and third installments, headed for the sidelines. It looked like the series was dead in the water until Gilroy stepped up to write and direct Chapter 4.
"A lot of smart people spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to continue it with integrity and plausibility," Gilroy said by phone before last week's New York premiere. Gilroy's solution, telling the new story in the same time frame as "The Bourne Ultimatum," "was a sexy idea to a lot of people."
Jeremy Renner takes the lead as Alex Cross, another black-ops killing machine marked for elimination by CIA higher-ups.
His story delves deeper into the sinister Blackbriar super- soldier project and its murderous cover-up. Meanwhile, TV news reports follow Jason Bourne's high-fatality New York adventures off-screen. "Dealing with those events probably looked like a problem to most people trying to make a traditional sequel, but you can make them into an advantage," Gilroy said. "The fact that we could have a phone call from another movie to our movie, that's the fun part of screenwriting."
Gilroy's film is a muscular, big-scale adventure, a style quite distinct from Greengrass' hyper-naturalistic documentary style. The film was shot on locations from snowbound Canadian mountain ranges north of Calgary to sweltering Manila side streets, and it features the gut-wrenching stunt work that has become the "Bourne" films' trademark.
Yet it's also a hyper-verbal story, with power-play arguments as dramatic as the back-alley shootouts. Gilroy said the righteous (or self-righteous) anger that fuels his characters is a quality he admires in "the great dialogue writers -- Aaron Sorkin, Paddy Chayefsky, Richard Price, David Mamet. The best way to get your story out is to make people disagree."
Gilroy admits that he and Greengrass had significant creative differences over the course of their collaborations, requiring extensive rewrites. "We had very different filmmaking styles and different tempos for how to work." Directing his own script, "I was in my own happy world," Gilroy said. "The big advantage as a writer/director is you're free to change things. You're completely liberated. Big movies are usually made by committees, and that's not always the friend of intelligence."
The film's action climax comes in an epic 8-minute motorcycle chase through chaotic Manila. While Gilroy says it's essential to be on-site to write convincing action, much of the planning with renowned stuntmaster Dan Bradley involved the men sitting together at a restaurant, racing Matchbox cars across the tabletop.
"We shot that multi-chapter chase for about a month. Everything we do, we're navigating toward authenticity all the time. We called our team 'Mission: Plausible,' not 'Mission: Impossible.' We want every piece of action to be real. We don't have 50 Apache helicopters coming across the horizon, guns blazing. We've got a guy in a basement fighting with a fire extinguisher. But it all starts with Dan, this mammoth guy, and you're sitting there at the table playing with Matchbox cars, saying 'Wouldn't this be cool?' There's a huge amount of play involved with it."
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