‘The Good Shepherd’ (2006)

With the length and pedigree of Robert DeNiro’s ‘ The Good Shepherd ‘ (167 minutes), the film seems to be a self-conscious effort to create a Godfather-like epic for the WASP-Intelligence set. With Matt Damon in the lead as a fictionalized version of CIA co-founder James Jesus Angleton , it would have, more properly been executed as a tightly edited 2-hour feature and saved the ‘Director’s Cut’ extravaganza for DVD.

The structure of the thing, with its multiple flashbacks and interleaved storylines – personal and Global Politik – by ‘ Munich ‘ writer Eric Roth – does the audience no favors, as the first hour cuts back and forth between Washington D.C., Berlin, London, WWII, the Bay of Pigs and some African insurgency some-when, some where.

So, the CIA was founded 50 years ago by a bunch of Yalie, Skull-and-Crossbones, antisemitic, racist, white guys (and – I couldn’t help but reflect, only 6 years to decimate, by one of their ‘own’).

I’m no expert on efficient screenwriting, but it seems to me that much of this film’s domestic drama could have been elided, condensed or eliminated. It is patently absurd that a debutante as incandescent as Angelina Jolie would have to use pregnancy and emotional blackmail to land any up-and-coming Federal bureaucrat, but there it was, the first casting effort that might have been better considered. Ms. Jolie’s screen-presence and her off-screen identity served this role poorly. If the faux Mrs. Angleton was a marriage-climber, they ought to have hired a B- or C-list actress for the role and not fully emancipated Hollywood royalty like Ms. Jolie. Some clinger or half-failed actress like Gretchen Mol, Cameron Diaz or Connie Nielsen might have been a better fit for the role (and made a greater Academy™ impact). Angelina just has too much bling to become the withering wife of an Intelligence bureaucrat, though it is difficult to imagine that they hadn’t yet created the now-cliché Embassy-cover for Intelligence Officers back in the ’50′s. That glamorous life alone would have kept Damon’s family together and kept Ms. Jolie from moving to Arizona(!) to be with her Mum.

White Guys: Casting Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, John Tuturro and Joe Pesci in your movie is a triumph, but distributing all of them into small character roles is a misfortune, especially when you need good actors to fill-in your ‘villain’ roles. John Sessions , Mark Ivanir and Oleg Stefan each look too similar (to each other and other actors) to register differences between the characters they play, which created other problems in following the story. Perhaps Damon’s character ought to have had his opposite, Soviet Number a bit more tightly condensed. I’m all for giving unknowns a spot in big, high-profile features, but when they all show up onscreen in a short period of time, they start to blur and merge. This is a point of attention that ought to have been addressed by either the writer or director — the complexity of ‘Shepherd’ would have been easier to appreciate as a novel but the length of the thing falls a little flat on the big screen.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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