LOS ANGELES — More than guns and cars, unshakable confidence is what keeps the classic spy hero James Bond alive. But, says the team behind "The Bourne Supremacy," today's spy yarns demand a more complex hero.
Enter Matt Damon, whose combination of youthful vulnerability and outsider skepticism make him born (or should we say Bourne?) to play the conflicted antihero.
The star of "The Bourne Supremacy," this summer's followup to the Ludlum franchise that (re)-launched two years ago (a TV miniseries ran in the 1980s), says doubt and uncertainty are key to moving the entire spy genre into today's confusing and dangerous world.
"That's the reason to do the film in this day and age," says star Matt Damon, who says he was attracted to the complexity of the role. The character is defined by his need for answers, he says. "And to take someone that we've established as the ultimate American weapon - and then take him on a journey of self-discovery - takes the audience on a journey of discovery about itself and its own country," he says.
"We're living in questioning times," says director Paul Greengrass, who adds that the intersection between the personal and the political is what interests him. "Many people feel that their governments have let them down, kept secrets from them, lied to them about the war and about terrorism," he says. "The consequence is a tide of cynicism, very analogous to the late 1960s and early '70s," he says, adding "a spy thriller is a very effective way to tap into those inchoate feelings and respond to that great swirling tide of mistrust."
Nearly the entire team re-unites for this chapter in the Bourne odyssey, with the exception of the director. Given the darker, politically charged tone of the film, the producers chose Mr. Greengrass (who directed the 2002 film "Bloody Sunday" about the 1972 clash between British soldiers and Irish civil-rights workers), yet another European director with a reputation for making edgy, provocative art house films.
"Paul brings that political side to the film," says producer Frank Marshall, adding, "[The film] represents a lot of countries trying to find their identities, what their role is in the world today."
Sequels present their own challenges, says Marshall. The Robert Ludlum novels on which the franchise is based are suffused with cold war conflicts, which Marshall says don't play as well in today's world of a single superpower.
"Oil issues were happening [in Iraq] while we were filming," he says. The new story involves corrupt officials in Russia buying and selling contracts for oil reserves.
The first film explores Jason Bourne's questions about himself and his country after he emerges from a fog of amnesia to discover that he's been trained as an assassin in a covert government program. This leads him to search for a way to take revenge on the people who made this happen. But, says Damon, to maintain momentum, the sequel has to discover what lies beyond that natural but limited impulse for revenge.
Without revealing plot points, he adds, "that's the realization he comes to in the end, and he does the only thing he can do to try to atone and redeem himself."
Damon says the success of the first film caught him by surprise. "I hadn't been offered a film for a year," he says.
The reason: the one-two punch of box-office failures, "The Legend of Bagger Vance," and "All the Pretty Horses." Then, when "The Bourne Identity" was delayed and new material was reshot, Damon says the word on the street was that the film was a bomb. He says he put the project behind him and went to do some live theater in London (which also met with poor reviews).
"We closed on Friday and 'Bourne' opened and on Monday morning there were 30 script offers at my door," he says.
Despite the acclaim and Damon's secure spot in the Bourne succession, his career is not unlike the world in which Jason Bourne must find his way.
"It never feels quite secure," he says. "Somehow it could all just go away like that."