December 21, 2006
The Good Shepherd.The New Yorker's David Denby calls The Good Shepherd "one of the most impressive movies ever made about espionage... This movie, which the screenwriter, Eric Roth, struggled to get made for years, is a sharply knowing social history of the CIA and also a melancholy account of the hollowing out of one of its key players.... Moving backward and forward in time, and netted with an intricate array of hints, secrets, warnings and echoes, the story of Edward Wilson is the narrative embodiment of paranoia." For Godfrey Cheshire, writing in the Independent Weekly, Shepherd "offers the most capacious dramatic account of America's intelligence service I've ever encountered in a movie." Furthermore: "With its muted cinematography (by Robert Richardson), dense, oblique plotting, and welter of complicated characters played by superb actors, the film recalls - very deliberately, I think - a number of great movies from three decades ago, the likes of Francis Coppola's The Godfather and The Conversation, Alan Pakula's All the President's Men, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist and Sidney Lumet's Serpico, to name just a few." And, even though it "fails to add up in the final analysis," if espionage or "the cinematic reference points just mentioned excite your interest, you should definitely see The Good Shepherd." Will do. "At once a prequel and sequel to The Good German, Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd taps into the inexhaustible vein of American political paranoia with a drama that reaches back to the formation of the CIA in the 1920s and forward to the botched 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that failed to overthrow Fidel Castro," writes Ella Taylor in the LA Weekly. "Though rooted deep in Cold War history, this rambling saga of closed-door international shenanigans bristles with object lessons for our current administration, with its pugnacious contempt for keeping open books. That's if they can sit through it." "Every awards season, a superb film gets lost in the shuffle of pseudo-prestigious releases and holiday junk; this year the casualty is The Good Shepherd," writes Armond White in the New York Press, adding that the film "is serious in ways most people have forgotten movies could be." "Reviews are sure to be pretty mixed for Shepherd, which just might be the longest and least-merry holiday release since Oliver Stone's take on Nixon 12 years ago," writes Dennis Harvey at SF360. "But it deserves credit, at least, for serious treatment of a subject mainstream cinema has seldom approached." What follows is a quick overview of the CIA's portrayal in the movies. "[M]uch of the credit for [the film's] pungent air of authenticity goes to Milton Bearden, the film's technical advisor and a 30-year veteran of clandestine services in the CIA," writes Patrick Goldstein in a profile for the Los Angeles Times. "Despite successfully creating the illusion of forbidden glimpses, The Good Shepherd slogs through most of its lengthy running time," writes Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle. Robert Wilonsky in the Voice: "As long as it is, Shepherd speeds through its leading man's life, cramming in 30 years without elaborating on any of them." De Niro "really should've acted with [Matt] Damon in The Departed instead of clocking a cameo in his own flick," argues Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Updates, 12/22: "Who rules the drones in The Good Shepherd?" wonders Manohla Dargis out loud in the New York Times. "Who is IT? The president, the people, American mining and banana companies, the ghosts of fathers past, the agency itself?... These are hard questions, but they are also too big, too complex and perhaps too painful for even this ambitious (2 hours, 37 minutes) project, which can only elude and insinuate, not enlighten and inform." Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "This is a somber, weighty, gray picture, one that pays clear tribute to the Godfather movies as it tries to scale some very rocky moral territory. But it's so unsatisfying to watch that even its biggest, most meditative right-and-wrong quandaries come to seem puny." The Stranger's Annie Wagner finds both The Good Shepherd and The Good German "pastiches of better movies, set at danger-ridden historical crossroads that are meant to remind us of our own times." But: "The Good German is much more fun." "An unwarranted 160 minutes' worth of epic impassivity," sighs Aaron Hillis at the Reeler: "Trust, honesty, democracy and patriotism are the words - as opposed to the ideas - set forth in a film that confirms the brilliance of an old Talking Heads lyric: It talks a lot, but doesn't say anything." Updates, 12/24: "De Niro's film is a long and tricky thing to sit through, as are most movies about true espionage, as opposed to movies about blowing stuff up," writes Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post. "It helps if you've read John le Carre and Charles McCarry, and it helps if you're a kind of Agency groupie (I am), who brings to the experience a nostalgia for the bad old days of the Berlin Tunnel and the coups of South America, when spies wore narrow-brim hats, Brooks Brothers suits (then patriotically made in America and never sold in outlet malls), Florsheims and horn-rims. Do you know who Dick Bissell was? What about William Harvey? Lacking that knowledge, you may find yourself lost in a hall of mirrors. But what helps best is seeing it twice." "If you think George Tenet's Central Intelligence Agency was a disaster, wait until you see Robert De Niro's torpid, ineffectual movie about the history of the agency, The Good Shepherd," opens Jim Emerson at RogerEbert.com. "Once again, responsibility for the large-scale failure does not lie with the valiant and hard-working operatives in the field (or the actors on the screen), but with the mismanagement of the director himself." Ray Pride finds the film "has a patience and command that accrues to a devastating conclusion.... While the near-autistic reserve of Wilson's intent powers of observation may put off some viewers - Damon, often shielded behind large horn-rims, is playing the most passive of characters - yet the power of the central dilemma grows from the analysis of how power can emanate more from concealment than display.... De Niro's film might have gained from a different approach to momentum as the picture moves past its second hour, but it's still a fascinating, fully inhabited world, weaving a vision or our own and never descending to mere conspiracy theory." Update, 12/26: Josh Gajewski profiles Matt Damon for the LAT, where Kenneth Turan writes, "Damon, in his second major role of the year (after The Departed) once again demonstrates his ability to convey emotional reserves, to animate a character from the inside out and create a man we can sense has more of an interior life than he is willing to let on."
Posted by dwhudson at December 21, 2006 1:17 PM