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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Can Universal find a 'Bourne' replacement for Paul Greengrass?

December 1, 2009 |  2:33 pm

"BOURNE" UPDATE: Paul Greengrass has just released a statement about his departure from the "Bourne" franchise. If only everyone in Hollywood sounded so classy. He says:

 "You won't find a more devoted supporter of the Bourne franchise than me. I will always be grateful to have been the caretaker to Jason Bourne over the course of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. I'm very proud of those films and feel they express everything I most passionately believe about the possibility of making quality movies in the mainstream. My decision to not return a third time as director is simply about feeling the call for a different challenge. There's been no disagreement with Universal Pictures. The opportunity to work with the Bourne family again is a difficult thing to pass up, but we have discussed this together and they have been incredibly understanding and supportive. I've been lucky enough to have made four films for Universal, and our relationship continues. Jason Bourne existed before me and will continue, and I hope to remain involved in some capacity as the series moves on."

The news that Paul Greengrass is reportedly dropping out of the fourth installment in Universal's wildly successful "Bourne Identity" franchise is really bad news for Universal. In the midst of a prolonged commercial slump, with several problematic films (notably "The Wolfman" and Greengrass' own "The Green Zone") still clogging up the studio pipeline, the studio had been putting all of its focus on pushing ahead with sequels to its most valuable movie brands, in particular "Bourne," "The Fast and the Furious" and "Wanted."

It's a sign of Universal's desperation to jump-start its commercial projects that Greengrass' exit seems to have involved scheduling issues -- i.e., that Universal wanted the film in production far sooner than Greengrass did.

Greengrass Greengrass' departure puts the "Bourne" series in jeopardy, since it's unlikely that Matt Damon, the star of the franchise, would commit to doing a fourth film unless the studio came up with a great script and a top director. (The most fascinating detail in The Wrap's account of Greengrass' departure is the news that Universal had two different screenwriters simultaneously at work on competing scripts for the project.)

Like most movie stars, Damon is happy to take a big-sequel payday, but only if he gets to work with a filmmaker who would bring some A-list cool to the proceedings.

So who could the studio recruit as a replacement filmmaker? I always like to be helpful, so I've prepared a quick list of possible directors who could offer some added value to another "Bourne" film. If any of you have other suggestions, please feel free to share:

Michael Mann: No one has a better feel for kinetic political thrillers. Sure, he's a handful, but Mann is an actor magnet and if Universal could survive two consecutive Mann adventures ("Miami Vice" and "Public Enemies"), maybe a third one would be the charm.

Tony Scott: He's always busy, so scheduling could be an issue, but as one of the best shooters in the business, he'd be a perfect fit for "Bourne." Another magnet for movie stars.

Neill Blomkamp: After the surprise success of "District 9," he's on everyone's "Hot Director" list. He's young, full of visual energy and would be a drawing card for Damon as a way to bring new energy to an aging film series.

Pierre Morel: He doesn't have the cachet of some of the other candidates, but after having a huge hit with the low-budget "Taken," he'd be the go-to guy for Universal if the studio wanted to rein in "Bourne" production costs this time around.

Len Wiseman: A bona fide action hit-maker after "Underworld" and "Live Free or Die Hard," he would also bring low-cost commercial chops to the series, though he might not have enough of the cool factor to pass muster with Damon.

John Moore: Something of an in-house director at Fox, he's delivered a series of solid but unspectacular actioners ("Behind Enemy Lines," "Max Payne"). He might not be enough of a drawing card to impress Damon, but on the other hand, you know that if he can work with Tom Rothman, he can work with anybody.

Timur Bekmambetov: He'd be the perfect choice, being a great visual stylist with tons of action credibility. Unfortunately, Universal already has him at work on a much-needed sequel for his hit, "Wanted."

Zack Snyder: "300" made him an instant star, but after the visual mess of "Watchmen," he might be willing to crank out a great genre sequel if it gave him the chance to work with a top movie star.

Steven Soderbergh: He keeps making crazy, inaccessible personal films, but if the studio needs to keep Damon on board, who would be better than the director who worked so well with the star on both "The Informant!" and the "Ocean's" series?

Doug Liman: He is, after all, the guy who launched the franchise, directing and producing "Bourne Identity." Sure, there were the well-reported contretemps between director and studio, but few know  "Bourne" better than Liman, who has received a producer credit on the last two movies.

Photo of Matt Damon in "The Bourne Ultimatum" by Jason Boland / Universal; Paul Greengrass by Francois Mori / Associated Press