The Good Shepherd * * *

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Director: Robert DeNiro.
Screenplay: Eric Roth.
Starring: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert DeNiro, Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, Billy Crudup, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Gambon, John Sessions, Keir Dullea, Gabriel Macht, Martina Gedeck, Joe Pesci.

Robert DeNiro’s second directorial effort, 14 years after his debut “A Bronx Tale”. He again shows that he’s as good a director as he is an actor but unfortunately, it’s the script that let’s this potential classic down.

In 1961, after the Bay Of Pigs fiasco, CIA agent Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) tries to learn who leaked word of the planned invasion of Cuba. He recalls his long service with the Agency, and ponders the failure of his marriage to Clover (Angelina Jolie).

Having been involved in some of the best films ever made and worked with some of the best directors; Scorsese, Leone, Coppola, Bertolucci to name a few. You can see where DeNiro’s ambition and scope has come from with this sprawling, convoluted espionage film. First off, he amasses a very impressive cast playing out over a number of years and in split-time frame structure. His attention to detail and eye for capturing time and place is astutely done and wonderfully captured, and it certainly doesn’t lack ambition. It’s heavily based on fact and covers a lot of ground; the origins of the CIA; Nazi sympathisers; the invasion of Cuba; the cold war conflict with the Soviet Union, as well as Wilson’s strained relationship with his wife. Despite all this though, the film is surprisingly lacking in excitement. At times it borders on boring. It’s a real shame as everyone involved puts in a good shift but the major problem is the main character. He’s so stoic and impassive that it’s hard for Damon to deliver a performance that’s anything other than awkward and expressionless. It’s a difficult character to identify with and he’s hardly ever off screen, which is a bit of a slog at a running time approaching 3 hours. There are still many powerful scenes throughout though and Robert Richardson’s cinematography is splendid but despite the ambition also shown in Eric Roth’s script, it doesn’t quite come together as an absorbing or gripping spy thriller, when really it should.

Considering the talent involved, this is listless and ultimately frustrating. I really want to rate this higher – as I found plenty to enjoy – but can’t bring myself to do so.

Mark Walker

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