Delivering big entertainment value has become a hallmark of the collaboration between Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass. The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum were intelligent, high-flying thrillers that were grounded in reality. That reality came about, in part, thanks to Greengrass' docu-drama touches, notably the jittery, nervous, sometimes out of focus photographic technique known as "shaky cam." Green Zone, the latest team-up between star and director, stretches beyond pure popcorn in its ambition, becoming as much an unambiguous message movie as an action drama.
The blurry-eyed shaky-cam, however, remains, to the point that some folks might become a little nauseous from watching the action scenes. Admittedly, I haven't always been the biggest fan of shaky-cam; over the past 10 years, it's become a crutch for directors who don't know how else to imply a sense of "reality" (hello, Cloverfield! See image above, at right.) Used judiciously and skillfully, however, as a technique that fits the story, it can be terrific. Really, it's no more artificial than other methods and techniques that lend verisimilitude to a narrative feature, similar to the use of non-professional (or little-known) actors side by side with well-known stars like Damon, Greg Kinnear (as a self-righteous government official), and Amy Ryan (as a reporter forced to search her soul for the truth).
The shaky-cam reminds us of documentaries and reality TV shows, yes, but that's not really cheating, is it?
Setting up classic shots with a fixed or smoothly gliding camera can give the viewer a sense of godhood, observing the action from an omniscient point of view, while the shaky-cam throws us down on the ground, struggling to decipher up from down. I say: whatever works in the service of the story. (To Greengrass' credit, he's also used the technique effectively in Bloody Sunday, Omagh, and United 93.) Anything else sticks out like a broken camera lens.
Do you object to shaky-cam on principle and/or medical advice? Or have you come to accept it as just another weapon in the filmmaker's arsenal?