Greengrass career moves to its own tune

  • Pin It

Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips reviews "Captain Phillips" starring Tom Hanks and previews the Chicago International Film Festival on this week's "Reel Thursdays." (Posted on: October 10, 2013)

Out of a lineup of major contemporary Hollywood directors, odds are you'd pick Paul Greengrass (big, owly eyeglasses, longish gray hair) as the one who wrote his Cambridge University dissertation on the novels of Chicago's own Nelson Algren. He just looks like he'd have done something like that.

"I remember the argument," says Greengrass, 58, helping himself to coffee during a recent interview regarding his latest film, "Captain Phillips." "I made the argument that he was a literary balladeer, and there was all sorts of textual analysis of the ballad form through the ages."

Trained in documentaries, best known for nerve-jangling docudramas ("Bloody Sunday," "United 93") and the highly charged second and third "Bourne" films, Greengrass likes the ballad form still. Often, he says, when he talks to London film students, he'll say: "Find your own voice, find the song only you can sing, the story only you can tell." It takes "time and maturity to find your voice," he says. "And it's hit and miss. For me it took time, all through my 30s. I started making documentaries in my 20s and then I started making drama in my 30s, which is always what I'd wanted to do. Mostly in television in Britain. I was learning my craft, shooting things very conventionally. I learned how to shoot stuff 'like a grown-up,' as I used to say. But it never felt truly like my stuff, my voice."

On genius: "Some filmmakers are true-born geniuses. Scorsese's a genius. Spielberg, that protean range. Kubrick of course. The rest of us are just craftsmen."

On his previous feature, the commercially unsuccessful "Green Zone," with Matt Damon on the hunt for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: "I'm proud of it. It did what I wanted it to do. I felt very strongly about that issue, and that mistakes had been made along the road to that invasion. But it was more of a j'accuse film, you know? And there's a time and a place for j'accuse. But I think it flattens everything out dramatically, and you sort of become judge and jury in your own regard."

On why he took on "Captain Phillips": After "Green Zone," Greengrass was attracted to the idea of telling "a simple story about four young men who attack a ship and take some of the crew hostage and then there's an exchange, and a double cross, and they get in the lifeboat and make for Somalia. It's a simple, almost old-fashioned sort of story. Like the best kind of true stories, it had wonderful collisions, and it illuminated a larger landscape, just in the telling of it." His job, he says, was to "get out of the way of the film and let it speak for itself. And I'm pleased with it. You tell me if it works."

  • Pin It

Local & National Video