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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006) - Robert DeNiro

Robert DeNiro returns to the director's chair for his second film since 1993's A Bronx Tale (although he did some uncredited work on 2001's The Score). The Good Shepherd charts the formation and early days of the Central Intelligence Agency through the eyes of Edward Wilson, a man who values discretion and patriotism, qualities that bring him to the attention of the big wigs at the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. Set in 1961, the film opens with the planning and subsequent failure of the Bay of Pigs incident. Edward Wilson, head of Counter Intelligence in the CIA, and one of the architects of the disastrous mission is brought under suspicion, as a mole is discovered within the CIA. As the events unfold, the story is intercut with the events that lead Wilson to his position in life, from his induction to Yale's Skull and Bones society, his recruitment to the OSS, and the evolution of the OSS into the CIA. Wilson is a fictitious character, but is present for most of the real life events that surrounded the evolution of the CIA. We also witness Wilson's personal life. His marriage to Margaret Ann Russell, a woman he doesn't love, and the birth of his only son who he never connects with.

The film rests on the shoulders of Matt Damon who plays Wilson. I've enjoyed Damon's performances in the Bourne films and The Departed, but here, he is directed to act like a statue. This is the nature of the character of Edward Wilson, but it also prevents us from ever really engaging with the character. We remain as removed from Wilson as his family and friends, and never get inside his head. This is not Damon's fault, but because of the nature of the role, you cant help but feel disconnected from the film. The supporting cast, including John Turturro, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, and Michael Gambon are on fine form. But they are given supporting roles, and as such they're never really given the screen time to give us something to cling to. Angelina Jolie seems totally miscast, playing Wilson's wife. Her role is to simply turn up now and again and complain that she doesn't know the man she is married to. I dunno about you, but I cant really accept an actress with her presence playing someone so weak.

The film is really about tone and atmosphere, and DeNiro does a good job of creating a sense that something big is happening during the flashbacks. However, there is very little plot as such, and the film feels drawn out at times. The mole plot that bookends the film seems hackneyed. We never really get the impression that a mole inside the CIA is anything more than a trivial matter. This is essentially a history lesson told through fictitious characters, but with little to do, you could be forgiven for getting a little bored. And at almost three hours in length, you get the impression DeNiro's film could really have benefited from a little more editing. Intriguing if you're interested in the evolution of the CIA. Lacking a great deal if you're looking for a spy adventure.

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