Review #351 of 365
Movie Review of The Good Shepherd (2006) [R] 160 minutes
WIP™ Scale: (1st viewing $14.00 + 2nd viewing $12.50) / 2 = $13.25
Where Viewed: Colorado Cinemas Cherry Creek 8, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 29 December 2006
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Film's Official Website
DVD Release Date: unscheduled
Directed by: Robert De Niro(A Bronx Tale)
Written by: Eric Roth (Munich)
Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Matt Damon (The Departed) • Angelina Jolie (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) • Alec Baldwin (Running with Scissors) • Tammy Blanchard (Stealing Harvard) • Billy Crudup (Mission: Impossible III) • Robert De Niro (Hide and Seek) • Keir Dullea (Alien Hunter) • Michael Gambon (The Omen) • William Hurt (Syriana) • Timothy Hutton (Last Holiday) • Lee Pace (Infamous) • Joe Pesci (Lethal Weapon 4) • Eddie Redmayne (Like Minds)
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As it one of the trademarks of movieEVERYday.com, first reviews of a film attempt to review without spoiling the plot, while second reviews, called spoiler reviews, open things wide up. In writing the first review, it turns out to be incredibly challenging to do the film justice while not revealing any of the twists and turns. Those that have seen the film will know that there are many and that the film is actually subtle, complicated, and not so easy to unravel. Therefore, it becomes quite a challenge to point out the film's drawbacks or downfalls without spoiling these. In the conclusion of the previous review, a point was made that the film is not quite as good, about $1 on the W.I.P. Scale™ in fact, than it's similar counterpart, last year's Munich. That seems like a good place to start the spoiler review, just where the last review left off then.
The two films share much in common. The both focus on the conscience of one man as he grapples with the instructions of his government to commit acts or set events in motion where other people lose their lives. They both have a young child, living back in the USA with whom they have been unable to make any significant connection due to serving abroad. They are both surrounded with men with whom they develop tenuous ties, but as for having complete or absolute trust, that is impossible. One key difference between the films is that Eric Roth's screenplay reveals much more about the background and transformation of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) to his adult character in the Good Shepherd than was revealed regarding Eric Bana's character, Avner, in Munich. Ironically, rather than this working to establish a stronger connection between audience and Edward, the background solidifies a cold, steely, mechanical relationship. As was stated in the previous review, it is very difficult to care for Edward, to feel his pain, to wish things would be different for him. In fact what motivates him at the core, is somewhat inexplicable. It is clear that growing up fatherless has created a void of approval and a self-determination that generally cannot be challenged. So, when his college English professor asks him to become the editor of the poetry magazine, for example, he is visibly thrilled. Throughout the rest of his life, however, he will be asked to lead various projects or even organizations or agencies and his responses will be guarded or couched in complete reserve. He will give no visible sign of delight or passion about these promotions as if he either expects them or doesn't care. He becomes nearly emotionless. Which may well be what is necessary for his success, but it does not make for a very good protagonist for a film. This stands as one of the sharpest contrasts between Edward Wilson and Avner. Avner is very emotional and we get the sense that his heart and soul are in his mission. With Edward we see only steely eyes and can only wonder if he has a soul. This is particularly pronounced during a scene where Edward authorizes and oversees the torture of a Soviet spy. Stripped of his dignity, the spy is hooded and doused with bucket after bucket of ice-cold water. When he refuses to give up his name, he is subjected to a new truth serum known as lysergic acid diethyl amide known as LSD. After babbling in a semi-lucid state for a while, the spy gains a moment of perfect clarity and states that the Soviet military machine is a myth of rust with no spare parts, but that the USA needs it to be a great threat in order to justify its own military industrial complex. He then states his name, states that he is free, and leaps through the glass out the window of the high rise building plummeting to his death below. Edward shows little or no reaction to the event. There is no discussion of the torture nor the lack of results. It just happens. As things do for him in his life.
This too, then, becomes one of the problems with the film. While there is no question that the principle supporting cast is superb in every way, while there is doubt the writing is as strong as anything released this year, and while there should be no reservation in stating that the production values are of the highest order, because the 'hero' of the story, the plain and odd protagonist if you will, is so cold and clammy, the film verges on giving the vibes of a dull history book rather than an engaging, controversial, and emotionally involving cinematic event experience. I recall the feeling I had upon leaving the theater after Munich. I felt emotionally spent. I felt like I had grappled with the very issues Avner faced. My gosh, can you imagine supporting the murder of your son's fiancée (she gets shoved, parachute-less, from a small plane in the skies above the jungles of Congo), and having almost no reaction? Sure, he had to go along with it because the woman was damaged spy goods to the Russians, and she had been the one to reveal the location of the planned Bay of Pigs invasion to the Russians in the first place. And sure, it was his own son that spilled the beans to her. The events in Edward's life from the forcible drowning of his OSS mentor, Dr. Fredricks, because the agency was worried about the attention his personal life was attracting, to the discovery that Philip Allen (William Hunt) has been spiriting agency money into a secret Swiss Bank account for years, these events just flip by like those on turning pages of a very dry, college history text.
Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word review of this film]
Other Projects Featuring The Good Shepherd (2006)
Matt Damon • Angelina Jolie • Alec Baldwin
Tammy Blanchard • Billy Crudup • Robert De Niro
Keir Dullea • Michael Gambon • Martina Gedeck
William Hurt • Timothy Hutton • Mark Ivanir
Gabriel Macht • Lee Pace • Joe Pesci
Robert De Niro
The Good Sheperd (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]