Known for his distinct visceral style of filmmaking, Paul Greengrass is one of the most interesting working directors today. Tackling some true-life stories and the Bourne franchise, Greengrass has honed his style in unique ways. Always ready to put you in the middle of the action, he is a director who has given us a backseat to his stories. Often, his films are difficult to get through. However, it is never due to a lack of being engaged. Greengrass has always managed to deftly balance human stories, with thrilling, edge of your seat action. So what are his five best movies? Let’s dive into them, and appreciate a master of suspense.
#5. 22 July
The newest of his films, 22 July may have the chance to move up this list. The movie is intense, disturbing and heartfelt all in one. The movie tells the story of the 2011 terror attacks in Norway. A white nationalist planted a bomb at the government center in Oslo, before heading to a nearby island. At this island, the attacker, Anders Breivik, murders dozens of teenagers attending a youth labor party camp. Greengrass brilliantly puts you right in the action with visceral and harrowing sequences. Using his trademark handheld camera style of shooting, it adds an element of terror as you’re right in the action. Where the movie truly shines is its look into the aftermath of the events. In the end, 22 July is well-acted, brilliantly executed and overall an emotionally affecting piece of cinema.
Not currently available on Amazon.
#4. Captain Phillips
Taking on another true-life story, Greengrass teamed up with Tom Hanks in his 2013 Best Picture nominee, Captain Phillips. The film follows a freighter captain named Richard Phillips. His ship becomes taken over by Somalian pirates looking for money. Greengrass again puts you right into the film and gives us a unique perspective on the matter. His mastery of crafting films with palpable tension certainly isn’t in question. Hanks is terrific in the film, and much like 22 July uses all unknown Norwegian actors, Greengrass uses unknown Somalian’s in the film to portray the pirates. It’s unpredictable, always enthralling and ultimately, utterly unforgettable.
Up until 2016’s Jason Bourne, this franchise went out on a high note. Greengrass incredible talent in directing action makes this one the best of the series and rousing action thrill ride. Matt Damon gives yet another charismatic performance as Jason Bourne. What is really great about the movie is its smart screenplay and assured direction. The various camera movements and shooting style finds Greengrass really first starting to play with various camera angles and some complex shots. All of it works, and the film isn’t your run-of-the-mill action sequel. It’s becoming a redundant point, but again, Greengrass uses his camera to put you into the action and it makes it all the more engaging.
Sporting a documentary style look, and yet another viscerally thrilling true-life story, Bloody Sunday was one of Greengrass’s early films. The movie is a chilling and realistic look into the massacre of 27 citizens in Northern Ireland. Again, Greengrass doesn’t use any superstar actors to tell this story. Raw emotional power comes out of the film at nearly every turn, and the director really gets to the heart of the people, and the viewer. Bloody Sunday is powerful, harrowing and an often forgotten film in the celebrated director’s filmography. It is ultimately a tough, but rewarding watch.
Just five years after one of the biggest tragedies in American history Greengrass took a look into a fated flight on the morning of September 11, 2001. United 93 is his masterpiece, and truly harrowing, somber but landmark achievement in 21st-century cinema. We are immersed with the characters on this plane, who thanks to a wonderful screenplay from Greengrass feel lived in. There is a realism in the traits of its characters, and you truly feel connected to them by Paul Greengrass’s visceral filmmaking. Every moment in the film feels entirely authentic all the way down to the air traffic control station. It avoids hysteria and exploitation in its dealing of very heavy subject matter. Greengrass treats the event and the lives of the people involved with the utmost respect. United 93 remains a movie that is tough to revisit, but it’s required viewing for any Greengrass fan or fans of cinema.