The Good Shepherd – DVD Review

Directed by:
Robert De Niro

Starring:
Matt Damon … Edward Wilson
John Turturro … Ray Brocco
Alec Baldwin … Sam Murach
Billy Crudup … Arch Cummings
Robert De Niro … Bill Sullivan
William Hurt … Philip Allen
Michael Gambon … Dr. Fredericks
Oleg Shtefanko … Ulysses/Stas Siyanko
Angelina Jolie … Clover/Margaret Russell
Eddie Redmayne … Edward Wilson Jr.
Tammy Blanchard … Laura
Joe Pesci … Joseph Palmi
Gabriel Macht … John Russell, Jr.
Lee Pace … Richard Hayes

Universal Pictures presents The Good Shepherd. Written by Eric Roth. Running time: 167 minutes. Rated R (for some violence, sexuality and language.). Released on DVD: April 3, 2007. Available at Amazon.com.

The Movie


The thing that makes movies like The Godfather (both parts I & II), Citizen Kane and numerous others the classics that they are is the fact that every viewing yields an even better experience than the time before. Every scene reveals something new, be it a small nuances in the actors performances, or a small, seemingly innocuous, detail that is later revealed to be the catalyst of far greater consequence. But the important thing about those films is that with each viewing the film grows on the viewer more and more, showing greater depths of the characters and a grander complexity to the story. The Good Shepherd tries really hard to be one of those films.

The movie follows the career of Edward Wilson, a by-the-book kind of guy ready to do anything at a moments notice for his country if it’s asked of him. He’s been raised to believe that it’s his duty as a citizen to do the right thing, so long as it’s for the greater good, and at several points in the film almost seems to be a prisoner of that creed. We start out shortly after the Bay of Pigs and Edward is put in charge of smoking out the mole. From there, we’re taken back to the early thirties where he finds himself becoming a member of the Skull & Bones secret society, and his eventual recruitment into the CIA as part of their counterintelligence section. From there the film really picks up pace and finds a rhythm, it’s just a shame that it occurs almost an hour into the runtime.

Once his long career with the agency starts, we’re shown what is expected of a man in his position. What kind of life he’s forced to lead and how he interacts with others. His job requires him to keep everyone at an arms length, never confiding in anyone because he never knows who he can trust. It’s a job that forces someone to live a life of isolation and loneliness. The Cold War plays a large part in the film, but is never explored to the best ability by the director or screenwriter. Instead, it’s treated as a background to set the tone of the era. Which is a shame because, with the movies subdued and cerebral style of story telling, a look at the men who were responsible for the nations greatest asset (information) during the time period could have made for an immensely fascinating film.

In an age where government agents are being outed by their own people and secrecy is at an all time high, watching The Good Shepherd shows what the men and women on our side of the fence are doing to keep our secrets safe and hidden from prying eyes — while at the same time trying to get the same type of information from our enemies. Ultimately trying to show some type of similarities between the old and new guard of America’s Intelligence agency.

The Good Shephard is a tough cookie to crack. Because while the movie is purposely slow in revealing the early years of Edward’s tenure at the CIA, there is an undeniable pace to the picture that will leave most slumped back in their chairs wondering why they’re still watching. Which is were my dilemma lies; you see, it’s quite obvious that this choice was a deliberate one, purposely showing us that Damon’s character is a by the books type of guy who doesn’t live an extravagant lifestyle and shows an honest depiction of what this line of work can do to a man and his family life. But on the flip side, it’s a very lifeless affair. Never seeming to create a character we wish to continue watching or discover what happens in the next chapter of his life.

De Niro has been wanting to bring this story to the big screen for close to a decade now, but it never seemed to get off the ground. One wonders if he went through with it simply because all the pieces were seemingly falling in to place and didn’t want to miss the opportunity. He’s worked with some of the most influential and highly esteemed directors of both past and present, and all while they were in their prime no less. So it’s almost expected that some of their signature styles have rubbed off on him. Then again, after A Bronx Tale, it’s hard for anyone to doubt De Niro in the director’s chair. His fame and legendary status in the industry has allowed him to pull together a wonderful cast of A-list talent that, oddly enough, seem out of place.

Damon’s performance is the one thing that keeps things feeling vibrant and entertaining. He brings such tenacity to each of his roles that it’s hard for anyone to say they’re ever bored by his work. In fact, the film is packed with some of the finest actors working today, it’s just a shame that none of them seem to be given anywhere near enough material to really stand out. This goes especially for William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, Angelina Jolie and Michael Gambon.

Sadly, as one of the most looked forward to films of 2006 for this reviewer, Shepherd never manages to unfold the way it intended. With the awkward editing that abruptly throws us from one decade to another, to a story that is simply too cold and unwelcoming for its own good, Shepherd seems to come off as a nearly three hour example of wasted opportunity for all involved.

The DVD


Video:
(Presented in 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen)
Robert Richardson’s cinematography is the sole part of the film that is faultless, and all of his hard work is reproduced in staggering detail on this DVD. Making Shepherd almost worth a purchase simply for how pristine and sharp everything looks. While with all new releases that are mastered in high definition it’s a given that there is very little to actually complain about, the DVD boasts some of the best looking footage this reviewer has seen in quite some time. Blacks are dark and rich, while shadowed areas still manage to retain plenty of detail. The only noticeable problems were some slight pixilation and background noise during some scenes.

Audio:
(English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround)
As a spy movie completely void of gunfire and explosions, don’t expect much from this audio track. The dialogue can be heard clearly and without any audible errors. For the few moments where the films score is used, the speakers are used to full effect and certainly make their presence known.

Extras:

Deleted Scenes (15:59) – Seven scenes are added here to view and, after watching them, it’s clear why they were taken out of the film’s final cut. Most either feel redundant because there are already similar scenes in the film or are, in the case of a subplot involving Edward’s brother-in-law, irrelevant to the main story.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Good Shepherd
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

6
THE VIDEO

9.5
THE AUDIO

6
THE EXTRAS

3
REPLAY VALUE

4
OVERALL
6
(NOT AN AVERAGE)