The Good Shepherd is many things. It’s interesting, enthralling and directed by the legendary Robert DiNiro. The story revolves around the creation of the CIA and features a rather star studded cast, ranging from DeNiro, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, William Hurt and Alec Baldwin (he seems to be in everything lately). They all fit their roles like a glove and brilliantly act their way through the many plots and sub-plots of the film.
In the film, Edward Wilson (Damon) is one of the covert founders of the CIA and is taxed with the effort of keeping his work a secret. Wilson’s world is an interesting one, ranging from the woman he loves, the one he doesn’t (but married), his son, his relationships with powerful men around the world and even ties to other government agencies, such as the FBI. The movie twist and turns around so much that by the end you feel a bit flabbergasted as to how it all began, but you get a sense of “wow” after the final frame rolls of the film that you can only get from watching a great film.
Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t a few tiny flaws. In particular I found myself lost for the first twenty minutes of the film until I paid closer attention to the changing dates of the film as it’s told out of order and culminates into a finale when the time lines merge (much like The Prestige did). While it’s bewildering and frustrating at first, it’s all cleared up on a second viewing and the film flows much better. If you feel at all confused after it ends, but enjoyed what you just watched, definitely give it a second viewing—knowing how the film is laid out makes the events of the film link together much tighter.
The only other drawback I found of the film was the ending. The final scene had nothing wrong with it, it’s just that the music that it went out on was slightly distracting. It could have been thrown in to remind the viewer of Wilson’s younger days when he was less of a hard ass and of a Wilson who wouldn’t knowingly allow the love of his sons life to be killed, but it still throws you off a bit, especially since the music ends shortly after it fades to black and goes back into the films superb score by Marcelo Zarvos and Bruce Fowler.
I find it oddly difficult to talk about this film. A lot happened in the near three hours the films runs, but it really can’t be reviewed or talked about as single scenes—no one segment sticks out in my mind. It instead runs together in a pattern of an intricately woven tale and pulling one scene or performance out would unravel it all. Although there is a small bit of dialogue between Joseph Palmi (Joe Pesci) and Wilson about America that left a lasting impression on me. When Palmi begins rattling off what the many immigrants to America have that they can call their own (i.e., Italians have their family and the church, Irish their homeland, etc.) Palmi then asks Wilson what the Americans have. Wilson pauses briefly and answers “The United States of America. And the rest of you are just visiting.”
There’s nothing Oscar worthy from any of the actors or the directing. It quite simply was a great piece of American film and certainly earns the quotes that are plastered across the DVDs packaging. “Best CIA Movie Ever” and “spellbinding” indeed.
There’s not much to see on this DVD. A single amaray case houses the disc and no inserts and the menus are modest as well. Heavily textured with a “grain” look, the menus have music over the main menu only. Menu’s are simple enough to navigate, although there are so few to navigate around.
The only special feature on the disc is sixteen minutes of deleted scenes. The scenes are fully finished and are actually a whole subplot involving Clover/Margaret (Jolie)’s brother coming back from the war after being presumed dead and then working for Wilson at the CIA. He’s later discovered to be semi-working with the Russians, though it’s never completely spelled out whose side he is ultimately on. It’s an interesting sub-plot, though in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t add anything to the story. It cuts out shots of a teenaged Edward Jr. and Margaret becoming even more infuriated with Edward Sr. for “betraying” her brother.
Video and audio on the release is strong. The imagery in the film is mostly dark, but it all comes across crystal clear. The transitions from the black and white footage to color are not marred by the transfer at all and look gorgeous. Audio is focused mostly on the front channels, with the surround and subwoofer getting very little play, if at all in the surrounds case.
Though the special features are slim, they are worth watching (odd for me to say, as I just noted in my Smokin’ Aces review that deleted scenes should often not be seen). This isn’t the type of film that really requires in-depth behind the scenes documentaries, though I would have liked to hear a bit from DeNiro and Eric Roth (the writer). But apparently DeNiro doesn’t do commentaries for his films, so there’s little way we’d get much out of him.
Overall the film is well worth watching, although the DVD doesn’t offer much as an example to showcase the format in. Because of the slim pickings the disc offers and the possible one-time viewing of the film for some, The Good Shpeherd comes Recommended.