Wednesday, 20 June 2007
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
The Good Shepherd (2006) dir. Robert De Niro
Starring: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, John Turturro, William Hurt, Michael Gambon
“The Good Shepherd” is a deliberately paced spy epic about the birth of the CIA. It’s well made but terribly slow and uneventful. It’s told with the intensity of a whisper and rarely bumps up or down off its flatlined narrative path.
The film opens in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), the CIA operative who appears to be in charge, has just learned the mission has failed, and his Cuban exiles have been captured by Castro’s military. The powers at be assume a mole leaked the attack to Castro. The film will periodically return to this period time and again throughout the film as the investigation to expose the mole progresses.
The majority of the film is spent tracing the steps to how Edward Wilson got to that point in his life. He is a Yale graduate and an inductee into their secret ‘Skull and Bones’ society. From there he is recruited into a secret intelligence task force operating overseas during WWII. The agency would eventually morph into the CIA. Damon seems to be the perfect fit for the job; he’s quiet, unassuming, and virtually humourless. Right away he’s told not to trust anybody. So the question becomes, is he even allowed to trust his superiors, or his wife, or his family? Damon is forced to confront all of these difficulty realities of his job.
A major part of the film is his family. Damon has a one-night stand and impregnates Margaret Russell (Angelina Jolie). But Damon has a girlfriend, Laura (Tammy Blanchard), and so, against the feelings of his heart he “does the right thing” and marries Russell. Hmm Angelina Jolie or Tammy Blanchard?? This decision requires a large stretch of plausibility. Damon lives the rest of his life married to his job, leaving his wife and son to care for themselves. But Wilson sees the secrets he keeps from his family as the only way of protecting them against the possibility of being compromised or blackmailed. Despite the fractured domestic life, Damon loves his son unconditionally and so when his son grows up and wants to follow in Dad’s footsteps there’s the rub. It’s becomes apparent that the hand that had fed Wilson his whole life is about to bite him.
The sheer length of the film (167mins) and the slow groundwork of subtle plotting works for the film, but it requires much patience to make it through to the end. As mentioned, rarely does the film raise a voice, or increase the pace or intensity. Though it’s deliberate not to exaggerate the action or suspense, the film is left largely vacant and devoid of dramatic substance. Edward Wilson is enigmatic and distant, much like his Bourne character, but Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman know how to craft an action sequence to turn up the heat for the audience. Sadly, De Niro needs a lesson in that.
The film is terrifically shot by Robert Richardson, using a combination of the underlit style of “The Godfather” and the dark shadowy look of the 1940’s hard boiled noir films. The brightest light in most of the frames are rim lights around people heads, or across their hats. The consistency of style in creating the intended mood of the film is admirable.
De Niro has made a noble attempt to create a spy film that is as cold as the Cold War. And I think the film could have been salvageable in the editing room. Some punchier music, and tighter editing in several key sequences could have livened the film up considerably.
Buy it here: The Good Shepherd (Widescreen Edition)