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"The Good Shepherd"

Directed by Robert De Niro.
Written by Eric Roth.
Starring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, John Turturro and William Hurt.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  12/21/06

Folks--

While it certainly is NOT, in the words of esteemed "film critic" Larry King, "the best spy movie ever made", "The Good Shepherd" is still a very good film that helps educate the people on the early days of the CIA while giving us a fun but quiet spy film about what life might be like while you are always looking over your shoulder.

Matt Damon plays Edward Wilson, a ho-hum intelligence analyst; we follow Wilson's life from the present day, just after the Bay of Pigs incidents in Cuba in 1961, backwards via flashback all the way to 1939.  Edward goes to Yale, where he makes many of his future spy connections; also through Yale, he meets his first sweetheart, a deaf woman (Tammy Blanchard), and his second sweetheart, a woman who will eventually become his wife (Angelina Jolie).  He gets sent off to Europe in the early 40s to work counterintelligence in the waning years of World War II before being sent back to Washington to run all kinds of intelligence activities for the government.  All the while, Edward's got his hands on everything from dirty moles in his government to Russian contacts to assassination attempts to initial spy activities in Cuba.

There is a sizable amount going on that I didn't think it was too hard to follow...but, in a film where there are about a dozen Actors That You've Heard Of, that can be a bit many to keep up with.  Director Robert De Niro also has a small part in this film, as he makes way for other performers (William Hurt, John Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Joe Pesci, Michael Gambon, Timothy Hutton, the list goes on) who all do good work in small bunches.  The movie is mostly Damon, which is normally fine but his character as written is so dry that you were almost begging for a good laugh to lighten the tone a bit.  This Edward Wilson is a company stiff, and by making him an upper-crusty white stiff who is a humorless son-of-a-bitch De Niro has given us a sometimes-interesting, sometimes-as-boring-as-paint-thinner lead in a two hour and forty minute opus.

This, certainly, makes for a long sit.

But the material is interesting; characters speaking in code or generalities to throw off whoever might be listening is fun.  Taking calls from what looks like the Batphone also looks cool; shady dealings with questionable characters with the occasional "removal" of obstacles is always great in films like these.  Even though it all came down to a plot device that ultimately is not that interesting--Wilson's technical team is busy breaking down a room somewhere overseas because of a leak in our operations--"The Good Shepherd" keeps you watching because you are just tense the whole time waiting for the next spy thing to happen.  This sounds vague, I know, but when you see the movie you'll get what I'm talking about.

I did get the sense that it was much ado about nothing once I was driving home and thinking about what I liked, but while I was in the theater "The Good Shepherd" was quite captivating throughout, even if our lead is straight molasses.  (You'll also having a hard time buying the ever-youthful-looking 36-year-old Damon playing a 40-something guy with a 20-year-old son.)  I don't think this one is worthy of any of the year's top prizes but it's still a great one to catch as you sift through your holiday options.

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09