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Some Spies Slip Us Coded Communique On De Niro's THE GOOD SHEPHERD!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

I’ve been itching to see this one for a while. I love real-world spy stuff, and the history of the CIA is particularly rich as the subject matter for a film. Robert De Niro’s proved to be an interesting director in his first time at bat, and I’ve been curious to see what he was going to do as a sophomore film.

Tonight, two spies weighed in on a screening, and they couldn’t be more directly opposed in their reactions. Let’s hear the good news first:

Tommyknock checking in from Philly. Just got back from seeing a pretty intense flick THE GOOD SHEPHARD, directed by Robert De Niro with Matt Damon, Anjelina Jolie and about every working character actor in the biz today: DeNiro, Pesci, Crudup, Gambon, Hutton, Hurt, Baldwin, etc. etc. The movie is sensational - like reading a great epic novel but by no means perfect in its current state.

THE PLOT - the film opens with Damon prepping for the Bay of PIgs invasion. Listening to wiretapped tapes, secret photos, etc... all from his suburban home. As he takes the bus to work we see that EVERYTHING in his life is in service to the agency. A small kid asks for change for a dollar - turns out the dollar has secret info on it that his asst. (Jon Turturro) retrieves from an office file. This is whats fun about the movie - while it is very much a history lesson, its played out in a fun cloak-and-dagger style. With people speaking in code, hidden messages in dry cleaning, etc. I'm sure this is all historically accurate but (in a good way) took me back to kids' secret agent shows with decoder rings and such. From here the movie flashes back to Damon at Yale - being groomed in the Skull and Bones group that nurture future world leaders. He is drafted by Baldwin here for a little info gathering mission against a suspcted Nazi at the school. After passing this test, he meets Hurt then De Niro who ultimately convinces him to join what I believe they call the 'America First' (?) program. Around this time he meets a fellow agents' sister - JOLIE - who literally pins him down at a picnic and does him (kinda hot, very typical Jolie move, I might add). Next thing he knows she's pregnant and his fellow agent coeces him into marrying her. About a week after getting hitched he gets his first assignment and doesn't really see her or his son for about 5 years. I'm getting bogged down in information here so let me just say that by the time he gets back from Europe - his allegiance is almost solely completely to 'his country' (not his family) and Cuba is becoming a threat.

MY CRITIQUE-------------------------------------------

After adjusting to the rhythm of it, I was in love so let me get my bitching out of the way before the worship begins.

THE BAD: this movie is LONG. Like over 3 hours long. And you can definitely feel it in places. Which is a strange problem considering that it is so jam packed with informatoin and human drama that I was still processing stuff when the next scene would come on. Which brings me to my next bitch. The movie can be a bit confusing at times. Although if you wait paiently, things are revealed that explain a lot and they end up blowing your mind. IF YOU WAIT. In the meantime though, you may find yourself playing catch up with the plot/reversals/double crosses/tests and general intrigue that goes on. My buddy and I just spent the last hour eating donuts and hashing through only like half of it.

But the movie could very well be a masterpiece and here is why...

THE GOOD: this is an intense, fascinating, pulsating and passionate depiction of a chapter of American History that even if we think we know somewhat - we really have no idea about. The pleasant surprise here being that De Niro manages to layer the personal, dysfunctional history of one particular operative throughout the whole birth of the CIA up through to the disaster at Bay of Pigs. All of which rests on the very capable shoulders of one Mr. Matt Damon - whom is turning out to be one of our cinema's greatest actors. He's (I think) in just about every single scene of this and turns in a performance that is not only stoic and mature, but observant, wise and conflicted. In a way the whole story is his struggle to keep moral amidst a career which traffics in secrets, lies and distrust. Mark my words - THIS WILL BE DAMON'S NEXT OSCAR NOMINATION. Jolie and Hurt are pretty much the next two leads - with Hurt doing what Hurt does (all I can say) and Jolie proving once again that she is full of surprises. She's flirty in this, cynical -- and even naive which I don't think is something we've seen in her arsenal before. I never think of Jolie as wounded or vulnerable and I think this performance will show people just how big her range is. Its a part that gets to build througout and then e-x-p-l-o-d-e. AGAIN - JOLIE'S NEXT OSCAR NOD.

I think my Jeff summed it up best when he said that IF - and only IF - they clean this up a bit and maybe even trim down some subplots, this movie will be THE GODFATHER in the CIA.

Strong words indeed. And this next spy couldn’t disagree more. Check it out:

So I read reviews on your site alot but never thought I'd actually have a chance to send one in. I got in to a screening for The Good Shepherd though, and couldn't help sending a review your way. Enjoy. And if you can, call me WillTippin. If not, um... JeremyGrey would work fine too.

Alright, here's the review.

The Good Shepherd

I went to see MI:3 at my local movie theater this past Saturday, and on the way in was handed a flyer to go see “The Good Shepherd”. I had heard about it before, and knew it was Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut, and starred Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, among others. Naturally, I was excited to get the chance to see it, and even more so when I saw that it isn’t scheduled for release until December 22nd. I was getting to see what is going to be considered a high profile Christmas release more or less in May.

After seeing the film, I understand why they had the screening so far before release. The film needs a lot of work, to put it generously. The plot of the movie includes lots of characters, with lots of recognizable talent, but not much coherence. I had bought Munich earlier in the day, and had watched half of it before going to The Good Shepherd. Munich is heavy on characters and locations, and can be considered confusing at times. It all comes together, however, and builds into one central, meaningful, compelling narrative. Not so with The Good Shepherd.

Matt Damon’s character, Edward Wilson, is shown in the opening scenes as an important member of the CIA who arranges and manages the somewhat disasterous Bay of Pigs invasion in the early 60’s. While they are trying to figure out how it was so unsuccessful (they believe a mole within the agency gave away the drop point for the troops), lengthy flashbacks are shown, portraying a younger version of Wilson as he became involved in the life of spying. Through his connections in his Skull and Bones fraternity (I assume it was a fraternity), he ends up being recommended for some intelligence work in WWII. Before entering the war, however, he knocks up Angelina Jolie, then proceeds to marry her, and then go straight off to war. He comes back six years later, with his kid having grown up without him, and his wife, who was never really close to him to begin with, estranged. Then, along with John Turturro and William Hurt, along with others, he begins the CIA, urged on by Robert DeNiro’s character, who is a U.S. general. From this point, the movie goes back and forth between Damon’s character’s personal life and his life in the CIA.

There are a lot of problems with this movie, so I’m not quite sure where to begin. Let’s begin with the acting. Damon meanders through the movie, never really showing much emotion. Maybe that’s the point of his character, but considering the movie revolves around him, featuring him in practically every scene, he could have been much better. Jolie is actually pretty decent, she shows a range of emotion throughout the film, and even a little bit more of her character could be desired. DeNiro? Couldn’t really tell what the point of his character was besides to fill in plot points and tell Damon what to do a few times. John Turturro is pretty good, and is allowed to really unleash on a Russian during an interrogation scene, which proved to be a high point in the film. Hurt, along with Alec Baldwin, who plays an FBI associate of Damon’s, are also pretty good. Damon’s son, who is represented as 3 different actors, is always a bit off, with the first rendition looking like Damien from the new Omen movie, the 2nd one not really doing much, and the third one just doing a lot of whining. Also, Joe Pesci was on the flyer I got before the movie, however his character was in ONE scene and seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever besides potentially getting Fidel Castro some booby-trapped cigars, which I’m not even sure was Pesci’s doing. Finally, Billy Crudup, fresh off of MI:3, is back in the intelligence world as a British agent.

So the acting wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was the high point. How about the negatives? First, the plot is presented in a non-linear way, starting in the future and going back to the past a number of times, and for much of the movie. Why? There doesn’t seem to be a point to it, the film is basically a 1st person telling of the creation of the CIA and the effect that the intelligence life has on Damon’s character, so why not just start with Damon in college, and then proceed with the story from there? There is no real big payoff to using the flashback set-up, so they should just do away with it.

Also, the movie ran over 3 hours long. It doesn’t need to be that long at all. A half hour could be cut out of it, with it being somewhat redundant in a lot of places. It featured a lot of subplots that never concluded, or that concluded, but didn’t seem to make sense or seem very important. There are a few story lines that are interesting (the founding of the CIA, the interaction between the CIA and the KGB, and Damon’s character’s family life). Those storylines should be focused on, and the movie could greatly benefit from it. The supporting characters are interesting, but they aren’t what the movie is about.

Finally, and perhaps most disappointingly, was that the movie is just plain boringly filmed. There is not one truly inspired shot in the entire film. I was hoping that, as DeNiro has worked the most with Martin Scorcese, there would be at least a touch of Scorcese’s filmmaking ability. I seem to have expected way too much. Also, there aren’t any interesting locations used. Mostly all of the film is set indoors, and the few outdoor shots that are featured are from high angles, only showing so much of the set. No CGI is used at all, and while most people dislike CGI, it’s nice to use in small amounts to create past locations, and that isn’t done here.

Maybe I just had high hopes for the film. With the talent involved, who wouldn’t? Maybe with some good editing this can become a worthwhile, interesting film. Just don’t expect anyone to be clamoring for it to win awards come December when it is released.

With opinions that different, all it makes me is more curious. I’m hoping we at least see a preview for this one soon, and I’m looking forward to wading into what sounds like a dense and interesting film as soon as possible.

Thanks, guys!

"Moriarty" out.

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