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The collaborative film work of Greengrass and Damon: A stylistic state of exception

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This article considers formal negotiations of terrorism in the collaborative film work of one director (Paul Greengrass) and one actor (Matt Damon). In particular, it explores the coupling of stylistic dynamics and sociocultural concerns in the Greengrass/Damon films: The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and Green Zone (2010). Placing emphasis on the earlier works, and especially The Bourne Ultimatum, the piece argues that the implicit political orchestrations of the Bourne films achieve more complex expressions of terrorism than their more declamatory sibling Green Zone. Both Bourne films are ferocious examples of what David Bordwell calls the ‘intensified continuity’ of modern American cinema: a hyper-charged spectacular and affective style of film-making adhering to formal paradigms of classical Hollywood narration, yet playing out at a more intense rhythm and register. Whilst in accordance with Bordwell’s claim, the article applies the principles of expressive criticism to see more at stake in the pace and surge of these two works. The films use their amplified formal strategies to get close to their thematic and socio-political concerns, creating a stylistic ‘state of exception’ to tap into contemporary anxieties of terrorism. The use of the term ‘state of exception’ indicates the article’s interest in the works of Giorgio Agamben. It extends the impact of this theoretical voice to advance thoughts on the marriage of style and content in the Greengrass/Damon projects as mainstream narrative films interested in kindred ideas, such as the liminal qualities of exception, and the effects of accelerated or compressed elements of time and space on the individual’s identity. Greengrass’ kinetic compositions and the physicality of Damon’s performances combine to create a sophisticated aesthetic of anxiety in the post 9/11 world order.
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Keywords: Giorgio Agamben; Matt Damon; Paul Greengrass; contemporary Hollywood; exception; film style; political theory; terrorism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Hertfordshire

Publication date: 2012-11-20

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  • The journal aims to provide a platform for the study of new forms of cinematic practice and fresh approaches to cinemas hitherto neglected in western scholarship. It particularly welcomes scholarship that does not take existing paradigms and theoretical conceptualisations as given; rather, it anticipates submissions that are refreshing in approach and exhibit a willingness to tackle cinematic practices that are still in the process of development into something new.
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