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For Your Consideration: Paul Greengrass of ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ for Best Director

Courtesy of Universal

From now until the Oscar nominations are announced on January 22, Vulture will be highlighting some of 2007's greatest, sure-to-be-overlooked performances.

By most objective standards, The Bourne Ultimatum should not be a good movie. For starters, it pretty much has no script. (What, disagree? Go ahead, summarize what happens in the film.) Any character development to speak of happened at least a sequel ago. Most ominously, it’s the third film in a series, and third entries often suck. (Though, tellingly, not always.) This is where director Paul Greengrass comes in.

Greengrass was a surprise nominee for a Best Director Oscar last year for his excellent work on United 93, but we’d argue that his achievement on the final Bourne film is the true measure of his talent: Here Greengrass takes what should be a nothing movie — a series of set pieces featuring supporting characters so cursory and dialogue so spare that they make your average Jean-Claude Van Damme movie look like a Doris Lessing novel — and turns it into something intense and breathtaking. He does this by relentlessly keeping us at eye level, and in the moment. While other action directors prefer grandiosity and CG effects, Greengrass gives us real human bodies doing amazing, real human things: When his camera follows Bourne as he leaps from the window of one building and right into another, that’s not trickery — that’s a real dude with a real camera jumping along with another real dude and right through a real window. In short, for the first time in a long while, we can believe what we’re seeing onscreen again.

But the beauty of Greengrass’s approach is not just the ground-level authenticity it lends to an otherwise absurd and disposable story. It also thematically mirrors Jason Bourne’s own experience: Here is a guy still in the process of discovering who he is and what he can do, who often has to rely on pure instinct to keep himself alive. This is not a bird’s-eye-view, tracking-shot, crane-up-and-away kind of guy. And Greengrass brings to his tale a powerful immediacy that feels absolutely right, in the process pulling off one of the great directorial magic acts of the year. —Bilge Ebiri