The Good Shepherd ***1/2
"The Good Shepherd" may not be the first film that Robert de Niro has directed, but it certainly is a labor of love, and a damn good one at that. With a daunting length of almost three hours long, this is a bulky film that could make even the biggest film fan wonder to himself if it is worth it to sit through this whole thing. But in the end, when all is said and done, "The Good Shepherd" is more than a good movie. It is one of the most thorough and complete portraits that I have ever seen, and Matt Damon gives such a great performance that it's obvious that he will go unrecognized come award season. In fact, I am pretty ticked that he isn't being showered with attention, but diCaprio could get two nominations at the Golden Globes. Just another Hollywood award ceremony mistake. I'm used to it now. "The Good Shepherd" probably joins "The Departed" as one of the most star studded events of the year. Besides Matt Damon and director de Niro, there are also appearances by Alec Baldwin(wow!), John Turturro(whoa!!), and even Joe Pesci(yikes!), who makes his very first film appearance since "Lethal Weapon 4." I did notice that his amount of screen time is slightly longer than what Ellen Burnsten had which won her the Emmy last year(a twenty second performance on a HBO movie), and his scene did appear kind of useless. I did wonder if maybe de Niro wrote in a special part for him, just to give his old friend an acting job. In any case, it was great to see him. The supporting cast, and almost all of them, do have relatively a small amount of screen time, which is why its important for the main character t be played by someone with a large amount of talent-someone that has the power to almost carry an entire film on his shoulders, considering that he's virtually in almost every single scene. I didn't think it was possible for Matt Damon to do such a hefty task, but he manages, and because of it "The Good Shepherd" earns all of it's 168 minutes.
Matt Damon plays Edward Wilson, a man who loves his country and wants to put it before everything else. We begin in Edward's life much later, where he is to the point where he is constantly looking over his shoulder for somebody to be following him around. He gets a mysterious package in the mail which includes a photograph and an audio tape of two lovers making love. We flash back to when Edward was at school, where he seemed happy dressed in drag in the school play(I am your Buttercup. . .!) Edward soon joins a Skull and Bones organization, and is disturbed by the mud pit wrestling, and the fact that somebody urinated on him. Edward has had a pretty traumatic childhood, considering he was the last person to see his father alive. He even had to hide the note that his father wrote before he shot himself, and claims to have never opened it. Edward gets admitted into the club, and even attends some of the functions. He begins to date a deaf girl who becomes his girlfriend of many years. At one of these functions, Edward ends up meeting Clover, a beautiful young girl who watches the Skull and Bones dinners with an odd hatred(Work first, God second, she says when they talk about the meeting before saying grace.) Edward has sex with her, and while at the beach with his girlfriend he is approached by her brother who tells him the news. Edward does the honorable thing and breaks up with his girlfriend and marries Clover. Edward doesn't stay in the marriage for long, as the president has called for a CIA organization to be created, and Edward is chosen as one of the members. Edward leaves his new wife behind, and doesn't even return until well after his son is four or five. Over the years Edward becomes involved with information on the Nazi's, as well as double agents, and never knowing exactly who to trust. At the same time it puts a damper on his relationship with his wife who hardly knows him, as well as his son who is growing up fast. Jumping from past to present(1961), we also see Edward and other CIA specialists trying to identify who the lovers are.
It's difficult to describe the plot of "The Good Shepherd" because it is less about plot, and more about a character. Edward Wilson drifts through his life, dedicated to his country and almost nothing more. Nothing matters to him other than America. He is also an interesting character mainly because he is disinterested in everything. He doesn't express much emotion, and even when he claims he is he looks bored. Clad in a light brown suit jacket and top hat, he carries his briefcase everywhere he goes, and everywhere he goes is bussiness related. "The Good Shepherd" is something you need to be patient for, as it is a mammoth work. De Niro doesn't spare the viewer of any little detail, and while it is slow moving, in the end it's all for a greater good. Scenes that seem as if they could be useless end up being important in the end, and every single minute is important is establishing Edward Wilson as a character. He is a tragic person in the end, and the question becomes if he is a hero or not. You won't agree with ninety percent of the things that he does, but in the end you even feel sorry for him. As time passes, I actually like this film more and more. "The Good Shepherd" belongs on the list of epic movie greats, and even though it seems like something Scorsese or Coppola would have been interested in, de Niro does a perfectly adequate job, and the screenplay by Eric Roth makes this more than an intelligent thriller-something along the lines of "Munich." Do not make the length become an issue, and enjoy "The Good Shepherd." I feel like I learned a lot. This tragic story is as close to a good old fashioned epic drama as you'll see, and it's a great way to end 2006.