Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Good Shepherd (2006)

Apparently, you can say a movie is "based on a true story" when it's pure fiction set within broad truths. Here are the things in this movie that we know are true:

  • World Wars were fought between 1914-1918 and again 1939-1945.

  • The CIA is a US Government agency.

  • Hitler, Castro, Kennedy and Arbenz were all real people mentioned in the movie.

  • The CIA tried to launch an invasion against Castro called the Bay of Pigs.

  • Robert De Niro should not be directing movies.

  • Eric Roth is a hack.

Those are the truths, because everything else in the movie is pure fiction. If you think this is based on the history of the CIA, understand that none of the names used in the movie are real except the four that I mentioned above. Why? Because there's so much fiction in The Good Shepherd that they would have gotten their asses sued by using real names.

How do I know? Becauase I'm reading The Very Best Men: The Daring Early Years of the CIA by Evan Thomas, where the author uses the real names. I had come into The Good Shepherd thinking that it would be about Richard Bissell. Instead, we get a fictional character that's not really historically interesting.

All of this is why I generally hate docudramas. I can't stop focusing on the inaccuracies in the movie. I tried very hard to judge this movie on its own though, as just a product of entertainment, so how's this for critque:

De Niro should not be allowed to direct movies, fiction or pseudo-fiction.

He took great subject matter -- the CIA between WWII and the Bay of Pigs -- and made it sensational, overlong, and confusing. For the content that's in this movie, it's easily 1 hour too long. The sensationalism was over the top... pretty much all button-pushing current political topics attempt to be touched on (waterboarding, LSD, assassinations). But the main issue is the editing. There are flashbacks, flash forwards, flash sideways, flash unders and the actors are not visibly different enough to distinguish what's going on. When you see title cards explaining where you are in the timeline, that's indicative of poor filmmaking. The story couldn't hold itself together without these cards.

It's also not a good sign when the supporting characters in the film blow away the main character. De Niro, Turturro, Hurt, and even Tim Hutton's 2 minutes in the movie give you more compelling character development than do Matt Damon or Angelina Jolie. Damon is neither evil nor good, he's just kind of a bump on a log. There's no reason to root for or against him. That might have been the point, but if it was, doesn't it seem like a waste of film? Why make a movie about someone who just sits there?

I did find the first half of the movie entertaining. Maybe it's because that was before it had gone way off in terms of history. I won't give anything away, but the first real plot twist in the movie seems way too contrived, and it goes downhill from there.

JSS RATING: BAD GOOD™. Congratulations De Niro! You've hit the jackpot with a trademarked Bad Good™ rating from Joel Schumacher Sucks. Bad Good™ of course means it was supposed to be an A-list movie by design, but it actually is bad. Oscar is a sucker for Bad Good™ movies. Previous recipients include Forrest Gump, which Eric Roth actually won an Oscar for.

1 comment:

libor said...

Don't forget that Damon mumbles his lines through the entire movie. I dare anyone watching it not to turn on the subtitles part way through this movie. It's not like he's playing an aging boxer, or a 18 year old pot addict, he's the frickin' head of a billion dollar agency of the US goverment. Also, Angelina Jolie as a bureaucrat's wife? Now that's casting.