The Good Shepherd

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THE GOOD SHEPHERD attempts a ‘Godfather‘-like historical-political-espionage saga, a generational epic covering a much greater ‘crime family’, the Central Intelligence Agency. Seen through the eyes of a key operative (Matt Damon), it uses fictive folk as thinly disguised real-life counterparts. Starting in 1939 it dives into the WASP’s nest of Yale’s secretive Skull & Bones society that spawned/spawns the cancerous backbone of the Deep State we’ve all come to know & dread. WW2’s O.S.S. days through the 1961 fiasco of The Bay of Pigs, the story ambitiously layers-in dealing with Soviet moles, covert messing in the affairs of Central American and African countries, and the interior psychological and moral damage all the secrecy and lies do to the human chess pieces. Thanks for all the Peace & Security!

Soviet power is a myth. Great show. There are no spare parts. Nothing is working, nothing, it’s nothing but painted rust. But you, you need to keep the Russian myth alive to maintain your military industrial complex. Your system depends on Russian being perceived as a mortal threat. It’s not a threat. It was never a threat. It will never be a threat. It’s a rotted, bloated cow.”

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Eric Roth’s dense screenplay was first written in 1994 for Francis Ford Coppola. By the time the $90,000,000, 167-minute production was released in 2006, Coppola had left the helm (remaining as Executive Producer) and one of his Corleone’s had taken the reins as director, Robert De Niro.  Don Francis bailed because screenwriter Roth’s centrally intelligent main character was so lacking in emotion he couldn’t relate. It’s the bugaboo for De Niro’s careful handling as well. Handsomely filmed, with a strong cast and plenty of material to engage them, De Niro and Roth downplay action for muted anxiety, and the slow-paced film depends on the chops of the supporting cast for injecting flesh & blood passion into the dispassionate mine field of deceit. Damon’s an excellent actor, but his ‘Edward Wilson’ (based on James Angleton and Richard Bissell) is so closed-in in manner and delivery and so closed off from warmth or vitality he may as well be be a log as a cog. Somehow he’s supposed to entice brazenly sexy socialite Angelina Jolie and kindly deaf student Tammy Blanchard, but it’s left solely to the actresses to sell that stack of cardboard since the script and interpretation leaves Wilson/Damon wanting. Blanchard is charming, Jolie once again wins every round she plays, giving the progressively downbeat trek some needed spice, spite and sorrow.

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Reviews were mixed, and worldwide grosses only came to $99,500,000, a true C.I.A.-scale planning failure. The rich production design, catalog of murderous misdeeds and solid supporting performances hold interest, even with Damon’s character pitched to somnolence. Roth’s script delivers a particularly astute gut punch to the Brahmin blooded creed behind the Agency’s agents when a Mafia ‘resource’ (Joe Pesci, back after an eight-year hiatus, playing a version of Sam Giancana) throws this cannoli at the roasted beef Edward/Matt: “Let me ask you something… we Italians, we got our families, and we got the church; the Irish, they have the homeland, Jews their tradition; even the niggers, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?”

The unhesitant reply: “The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.”

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With expected fine work from John Turturro, William Hurt (facsimile of Allen Dulles), Alec Baldwin, Michael Gambon, Billy Crudup (likened Kim Philby), John Sessions, Oleg Stefhanko, Martina Gedeck, Eddie Redmayne (23, feature debut), De Niro (covering William Donovan), Lee Pace (pseudo Richard Helms), Mark Ivanir, Timothy Hutton, Keir Dullea. Music score by Bruce Fowler and Marcelo Zarvos, cinematography by Robert Richardson. Oscar nominee for the excellent Art Direction. Shot mostly around Long Island, Connecticut, D.C. and London, with the Congo sequences done in the more accommodating Dominican Republic (Art Imitating Life Dept., Irony Lost Division). The C.I.A. did not like the movie.

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