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[FILM] Review: The Good German" - Matt Damon: A Spy

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  • madchinaman
    The Good Shepherd A spy whose soul goes undercover. RECOMMENDED By Kenneth Turan, Times Staff Writer http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-et-
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 23, 2006
      'The Good Shepherd'
      A spy whose soul goes undercover. RECOMMENDED
      By Kenneth Turan, Times Staff Writer
      http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-et-
      good22dec22,0,1529165.story?coll=cl-mreview


      Given that its subject matter is spying, counterespionage and the
      Central Intelligence Agency, it's not an accident that the first
      words we hear in "The Good Shepherd" turn out to be a complete lie.

      "You are safe here with me," a woman says to a man, but it's not
      true. In fact, this complex, quietly dramatic film creates a world
      where that sentence is never true, a world of constant, mind-altering
      betrayal and mistrust, a world that makes the biblical words carved
      on the CIA building in Langley, Va. — "And ye shall know the truth
      and the truth shall make you free" — seem ironic at best.

      It's taken a dozen years for Eric Roth's smart, thoughtful,
      psychologically complicated script to reach the screen under Robert
      De Niro's careful and methodical direction, and it is easy to see why.

      When Hollywood thinks spies, it thinks "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," it doesn't
      want to deal with an intricate, deliberately paced 2-hour and 37-
      minute work that not only quietly presents this quicksand world but
      also makes us feel what it would be like to live in it.

      At the heart of this drama is Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), whose life
      in and out of the agency we follow for more than 35 years. He is the
      spymaster's spymaster, in the espionage business from the earliest
      World War II days of the Office of Strategic Services, the
      organization that gave birth to the CIA.

      Wilson, however, will remind no one of James Bond. He is a gray
      bureaucrat, a meticulous perfectionist, seemingly humorless and
      emotionless, who speaks only when he feels he has something
      worthwhile to say.

      One of the earliest glimpses we have of Wilson, however — playing
      Little Buttercup in drag in a Yale performance of "HMS Pinafore" —
      gives the hint of the potential development of another kind of man.

      What "The Good Shepherd" is intent on showing us is how the one man
      became the other, how Edward Wilson's belief in duty above all else
      became his salvation and his betrayal, how a version of doing the
      right thing took over his life. It's about how a soulless occupation
      can destroy souls, about the price you pay for being the way you are.

      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.

      An argument could be made, in fact, that De Niro himself, famously
      undemonstrative in interview situations, was in part able to direct
      this role and this picture so well because he perhaps saw something
      of himself in its protagonist.

      Because of the great regard his fellow performers have for him, De
      Niro was able to attract an impressive cast of costars. These
      include — besides Michael Gambon as a Yale professor, Angelina Jolie
      as Wilson's wife and Tim Hutton in flashback as his father — a
      notable group of fellow intelligence operatives: Alec Baldwin, Billy
      Crudup, William Hurt, Lee Pace and John Turturro. Not as well known
      but equally strong are Tammy Blanchard as an early romantic
      attachment and Eddie Redmayne as Wilson's adult son.

      The film's frame is the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, the failed invasion
      of Cuba that will likely cause some heads to roll. As Wilson tries to
      find out what went wrong and to protect himself from internal attacks
      that could come from anywhere, a series of flashbacks shows us how he
      went from an idealistic Yale man to someone fanatically dedicated to
      his World War II work to the troubled man locked in a Cold War dance
      of death with his Soviet opposite number.

      There's way more plot in "The Good Shepherd" than can be easily
      summarized, and that is a good thing. And even though some things are
      expected, like coded dialogue of the "I'm here to see the tailor
      about a fitting" variety, much of what's here is not.

      An extended series of sequences, for instance, showing in detail how
      the agency goes about analyzing a photograph and a tape recording to
      see where they're from, are truly fascinating.

      Though biographer Tom Mangold, author of "Cold Warrior: James Jesus
      Angleton: The CIA's Master Spyhunter," is thanked in credits, it is
      clear from interviews that "The Good Shepherd" is most concerned
      about being true to the spirit and broader truths of the spy game
      than any specific details. When Gambon's Dr. Fredericks, a professor
      of poetry, tells young Wilson "you have to look behind the words to
      understand the meaning," he is telling us all we need to know.

      kenneth.turan@...

      "The Good Shepherd." MPAA rating: R for some violence, sexuality and
      language. Running time: 2 hours, 37 minutes. In general release.
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