Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Good Shepherd: Grade B


The Good Shepherd (2006)

Robert DeNiro, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Michael Gambon, Joe Pesci, John Turturro. Director Robert DeNiro.

It seems like DeNiro wanted to create a “Godfather” epic here, using the founding and development of the CIA instead of the Mafia in America (Francis Coppola produced). But it doesn’t work. What made the Godfather stick together was the Corleone family. Here the family of early CIA agent Damon is only sketched. He drifts into spy work from his network at Yale, and his father was a spy with the OSS, but we never see him choose that career with passion. There is a faint suggestion that Damon needs to compensate for his father’s failure but that is very faint. I might have imagined it. Damon is forced to marry Jolie but the passionless marriage does not survive his six years abroad. His mixed-up son gets involved with a woman with questionable security so Damon is torn between protectiveness, permissiveness, and duty.

The movie is episodic, with numerous mini-stories of deception, paranoia and backstabbing, but there is no momentum. The Godfather was also episodic but the themes of building the crime empire, ensuring family loyalty, and going legitimate, were overarching. There is nothing like that here. It is just “one damn thing after another.” The long (160 minute) run time would have been tolerable if there had been a thread to follow. The acting is adequate, the music good, and individual episodes, written Le Carre style, are directed with a real sense of cloak and dagger, but it is all unconnected. Annoying cliche green filters are overdone. Damon is completely unexpressive, almost catatonic throughout. In Godfather III, Pacino was catatonic but conveyed seething menace. Here Damon has no interiority. It would be great to see a Godfather-like epic moving through the cold war, but this isn’t it.

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