'Ultimatum' jump cuts match Bourne's mood

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When director Paul Greengrass and the filmmaking team made Universal Pictures' "The Bourne Ultimatum," which opens Friday, there was a deliberate effort to create a departure from other movies of the action genre by avoiding cliches.

The result was rapid cuts and a general sense of uneasiness in a high-octane thrill ride for the third and final film in the "Bourne" franchise.

"It's a very conscious effort to avoid the cliches, and with all the quick cutting, there are so many choices that you make, you almost create a new kind of grammar when you do it," producer Patrick Crowley says.

Editor Christopher Rouse says the team aimed to expand on what director Doug Liman started in 2002's "The Bourne Identity," the first film of the franchise.

"The core of the piece is different from the 'Die Hard' films, the Bond films, other films of the similar genre," Rouse says. "The 'Bourne' films are inherently darker. At the core, they are about a guy who struggled to find out who he is. So it is an existential quest; fundamentally by the nature of the material it is not cliche because it is much more profound."

With this in mind, Rouse cut the movie to reflect the state of mind of the film's central character, Jason Bourne. "Jason is uneasy; he's questioning; he's in search of his identity," Rouse says. "He is sort of a shark moving through the water; he is never particularly comfortable in his environment. In support of that, a lot of the material tends to lend itself to jump cutting; you are never really anchored or easy with the piece.

"I made choices that were unexpected, unconventional and that told the story in a more interesting fashion, and that ultimately helped support the character of Jason Bourne," he says. "This is a character-driven franchise. We tried to experiment in terms of perception."

Crowley cites as an example of the editorial style a shot of Matt Damon as Bourne in a taxicab as it crosses the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan. "I did that same shot for 'Sleepless in Seattle' and Tom Hanks was in the car ... you tilted up and you saw New York," he recalls. "Here, you start to tilt up, and you cut out of that shot. We shot the whole shot, but Chris Rouse would take it and whack it before you got to a conventional point."

Says Rouse: "If you think of where (Bourne) is at that point in his journey, he is making his way into New York and it is a journey that is not resolved. There were questions to be answered and things to be found out. (The shot was cut) as opposed to letting it sort of resolve itself -- and allowing the audience to feel resolved and to feel that the rhythms are comfortable. I think it is more effective if we are -- as he is -- off balance, uncertain. We are not able to negotiate the rhythms and the path as easily as we would like."

Crowley says the result was about 4,000 edits in the new movie, while 2004's "The Bourne Supremacy" -- which also teamed Greengrass and Rouse -- contained about 3,500. Rouse was surprised to hear the numbers. He chuckles, "I didn't count, but I'd believe it."

For Rouse, the editing schedule might be likened to the pace of the film. Shooting began in October and was scheduled to wrap in January but was extended. "We felt the pressure on the backend in post," he says, noting that Avid editing began in London but concluded back in Los Angeles. "I worked the last three months without a day off.

"Paul Greengrass, (producer) Frank Marshall and Universal were not satisfied with simply making with a good film, they wanted something that was special and excellent," he says. "We were constantly reinventing, putting things under a microscope and critically looking at material quite hard."

Borys Kit contributed to this column.
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