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Exclusive: Tony Gilroy Pulls The Curtain Back On The Secretive 'The Bourne Legacy'

by Rodrigo Perez
July 20, 2012 12:08 PM
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Tony Gilroy and his brother and editor John screen a generous dollop of ‘Bourne Legacy’ footage that’s at once fascinating, intriguingly new and thrillingly familiar in its propulsive use of tempo beyond just action (co-scripted by Tony and his brother Dan, “The Bourne Legacy” is somewhat of a family affair).

In “The Bourne Identity,” the shadow hand at play is Operation Treadstone, its successor Operation Blackbriar is at the nexus of the next two ‘Bourne’ sequels, and in ‘Legacy,’ the newest program is Operation Outcome. They are all off-the-books black ops programs under the same clandestine canopy. Similar, and yet, we’re soon to discover, very different.

One way of looking at the new film in the series -- at least in its opening -- is through the riflescope of an assassin watching the events of “The Bourne Ultimatum” unfold. Only to discover in “The Bourne Legacy” another assassin who has been spying in on that sharpshooter all along. To keep it simpler, it’s as if the aperture and frame have opened fully to reveal the greater cloak-and-dagger machinations at work. And from an outside perspective, the idea seems like a brilliantly clever way to reinvent the series.

One early sequence shows the stakes for all involved are do or die. Norton’s character, who calls what they do "morally indefensible, but absolutely necessary," likens the consequences of the ‘Ultimatum’ political scandal to a cancer. If it "metastasizes," before they can treat it -- put it in remission by deflagrating all the evidence, including the agents -- they're fucked. "Can you imagine the magnitude if this goes sideways on us?" he says to his team with furrowed concern. Outcome has become a liability, so it must be burned to the ground.

"They haven't just been physically enhanced, there's a cognitive aspect to it that's very important.”

An action setpiece in the streets of Manila that evolves into a terrific motorcycle chase goes on for a heart-stopping 18 minutes. Renner completed a lot of his own stunts, including a breathtaking jump off a building where he slides down between two walls with his feet. The dedicated actor was mounted on a safety rig, but still has bruises and scars to show for his daring work in the film.

Most notably, the visual vocabulary has changed in this iteration, trading vertiginous discombobulation for orientation, yet without sacrificing propulsion or testosterone. And Gilroy has two valuable assets by his side: cinematographer Robert Elswit ("There Will Be Blood," "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol") and legendary stunt coordinator Dan Bradley who worked on all the previous ‘Bourne’ films. A sequence in a lab that introduces Rachel Weisz’s scientist character Dr. Marta Shearing is chilling in its use of violence: clean, cynical and remorseless. The exact opposite tone of the shaky-cam anatomy from the ‘Bourne’ films.

Several familiar faces from the ‘Bourne’ narrative are seen throughout in keeping with the narrative and the aftermath of ‘Ultimatum’ when Blackbriar is exposed to the public. CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), Task Force Chief Pamela Landey (Joan Allen), CIA director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn), British journalist Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), Special Agent Ray Wills (Corey Johnson) and more all return in small but crucial supporting roles. And several new characters are introduced including Norton’s Ret. Col. Ric Byer character, Byer’s team (which includes Corey Stoll and Donna Murphy) and another Outcome agent played by Oscar Isaac.

While Treadstone operatives -- Matt Damon, Marton Csokas, Clive Owen and Edgar Ramirez’s characters -- in the previous films were trained assassins, Outcome operatives like Aaron Cross are more complex. And whereas Blackbriar and Treadstone were CIA programs, Outcome lies under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense. “They’re not assassins; that's not their primary objective,” Gilroy said. “They're very very submersive, incredibly nimble, and they haven't just been physically enhanced, there's a cognitive aspect to it that's very important. They're very very adaptive, they're very diverse and the things that they do are very long term and of extremely high value to the D.O.D..”

And unlike Jason Bourne, Aaron Cross doesn’t suffer from amnesia or a lack of identity, the driving force in the previous Bourne films. Cross’ motivations, something Gilroy won’t fully explain for fear of fundamental story spoilers, point to something much larger in play that hopes to widen the canvas of the ‘Bourne’ story.

“No, Aaron Cross remembers everything,” Gilroy explains, clearly trying to dance around the film's heavily guarded secrets. “It's very, very different, he's not morally confused at all. There is something very fundamentally, soulful and really emotionally powerful stuff that's driving Aaron Cross, that's such a potent piece of character motivation. There’s an element of ‘Spartacus’ in here, of the people in that program tugging at their leash a bit, but it's a more fundamental thing for him and it's not about morality but it’s as Greek as that.”

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  • snazzy | July 22, 2012 10:36 AMReply

    Ask Tony Gilroy if he wrote any of the finished product of the Bourne Ultimatum. I cannot stand the guy and he was the one that got Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon off the new film.

  • precisely so | July 22, 2012 5:58 AMReply

    Gilroy didn't write Ultimatum - it was written by George Nolfi and Scott Z Burns after he walked off the picture. But he must have liked their idea of inserting a phone call from another movie - since he admits right upfront he stole it for this movie. Why do you guys never call him on this stuff?

  • Duh | July 22, 2012 10:25 AM

    Yeah, he did. He wrote 1 draft and it was a condition of working on the film --since he didn't want to -- that he wrote one draft and one draft only. When there were problems later on, two writers were called in to work on it. Even Matt Damon said he wrote a draft (one that Damon dissed earlier this year).

    That's very public record stuff. How do you not know that before opening your mouth?

  • Arnold | July 21, 2012 9:53 AMReply

    Thx for this news, i ve been waiting for this news for a long time :)

  • JJ's uncle | July 21, 2012 7:27 AMReply

    Don't worry, Gilroy. As you yourself imply, Americans love crap. It should do great!

  • kerry | July 20, 2012 5:08 PMReply

    the more and more information i get about this movie the more i feel confident it will be good

  • shutthefuckupdonnie | July 20, 2012 1:27 PMReply

    i like gilroy i think he's a good director and i think he'll do a good job with this

  • ronin | July 20, 2012 12:55 PMReply

    i know there are skeptics out there but i think this has a shot to be really good, i mean great cast , great director i think it will be good

  • cameran | July 20, 2012 12:45 PMReply

    i really like gilroy, i think michael clayton was definitly one of the best films of the last decade, i can't wait to see this

  • kingslayer | July 20, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    wow i didn't know corey stoll was in this, now i'm even more excited

  • Matt | July 20, 2012 12:25 PMReply

    Come on, guys, it's ROBERT Elswit, not ROGER.

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