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The Bourne Redaction « The MacGuffin Men

The Bourne Redaction

Published on October 3rd, 2017


Alex re-edits Jason Bourne for some reason.

Recently, when writing an essay about the differing approaches of Detroit and Dunkirk’s representation of historical events on film, I made a comparison to a pair of Paul Greengrass films: United 93 and Green Zone. Of the pair, the latter is one that tells its audience what to think too frequently, and the former is a simple, (mostly) opinion-free representation of a historical event. At the end of this argument, I had initially added a footnote to this comparison saying: “While on the topic of Greengrass, we should also note that choosing silence over verbiage is basically the difference between the success of The Bourne Ultimatum and the relative failure of last year’s Jason Bourne.” I cut the footnote mostly because I never like to have only one footnote in something I write, but I still thought the idea in that eliminated footnote held water.

When the 2016 film Jason Bourne has come up in conversation over the past year, I have combated criticisms of it with a simple sentence: “If a few key lines had been removed to not spell everything out for the audience, you would feel completely differently about the movie.” The problems of the movie did not seem to exist on a fundamental level; its structure seemed sound, but Jason Bourne’s use of dialogue removed the trust the filmmakers had in their audience in the previous installments.

I find nothing more annoying than when a film tells me something I can surmise for myself, and – despite being a filmmaker I truly adore – Greengrass has a tendency to do that. I can still recall watching Captain Phillips on opening day, and thinking to myself, “Oh no, we might be getting Green Zone Greengrass” when Tom Hanks starts talking about the nature of a career and opining to Catherine Keener that, “Things are different today than when we were growing up.” Pretty much from that point on though, the best version of Greengrass showed up: the filmmaker who is committed to humanizing real-life villains (which he also did to great effect in United 93), and the filmmaker who ends his movie on a piece of visual storytelling that is the culmination of everything that happened from the first scene onward.

His 2007 film The Bourne Ultimatum is a perfect action movie exactly because it is directed by the best iteration of Greengrass. Everything about that movie works, to the point where I feel confident I will never see another action film that moves me as much. The movie starts with Bourne evading law enforcement in Russia, and it ends in the Hudson River, with almost no stopping to chat about hiding secrets from citizens in the middle. There are brief scenes where this happens, where Joan Allen tells David Strathairn to rethink his take on Bourne’s motives and also to enjoy his egg whites, but these moments are so brief and so succinct that it leaves much to the viewer’s imagination. The Bourne Ultimatum becomes a cipher for your own feelings on a post-9/11 American government simply because no character ever really tells you what the filmmakers want you to think. It shows you a not-so-subtle shot of a mini American flag on Scott Glenn’s desk, but it doesn’t tell you what to think of that flag’s placement; it left the thematic legwork to the viewers. Those who wanted to put thought into the film could see a thoughtful action film, and those who only wanted to see Matt Damon punch people still got to see Bourne beat the shit out of Desh in Tangier.

Jump ahead nine years, and we have the release of Jason Bourne, a movie I was so in the tank for that I loved it on first viewing and still like quite a bit. It has its problems, but it works so well as an action movie that I am willing to look past its lesser moments (for example, I firmly believe it is a better movie than The Bourne Identity). But the pedigree of Bourne was so high that the new film’s faults were magnified, lessening the feeling of the whole. I talked to many about how I wish I could make slight adjustments to it and see how people thought about it with a couple conversations and more egregious moments removed.

Then, when watching the film again last week, I realized I could absolutely do that. So that’s what I did.

Look, this is a stupid way to have spent my time. I know this. It’s so stupid that The Other Guys has a joke about how nerdy this idea is and it makes me laugh every time. But sometimes one feels compelled. This edit serves no real purpose beyond that. I was bored, I was drinking beers, and I saw an opportunity to finally put my editing knowledge where my lager-drinking mouth was.


Sometimes you fall in love with a movie so strongly that you develop an obsessive desire to help others see the world through your eyes, even if doing so involves removing eight minutes of characters explaining to viewers how to see the world. Ten hours of pondering and re-cutting Paul Greengrass’ intentions later, and this is what I’ve done.

Look at us. Look at what they make you give.

The Bourne Redaction from Morning Light Media on Vimeo.


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