Good Shepherd (The)
R1 - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (21st April 2007).
The Film

"The Good Shepherd" has been in some form of production for the better part of 13 years, originally screenwriter Eric Roth wrote the script in 1994. At the time Francis Ford Coppola was attached to the project but eventually decided not to direct (the popular reason being that he could not relate to the characters in the script) so instead of developing the script further he made "Jack" (1996) two years later and everyone involved in that production probably regrets it. After Coppola there was Hong Kong filmmaker Wayne Wang, then Philip Kaufman came onboard even John Frankenheimer was attached at one point but his death in 2002 put the breaks on this film yet again. Finally after 13 years of trying the film becomes a reality in the hands of Robert De Niro who not only appears in the film but also directs, (he previously directed 1993's "A Bronx Tale"). The question at this point is, after 13 years of development was it worth it? 44% of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes say that it's no worth the effort and the film's IMDB rating is currently only 6.8/10, so it's fair to say that the reviews have been mixed and the box office less than stellar. However the major drawback seems to be the film's length (167 minutes) coupled with the slow pace which has put many off the film. But if you can muster it the result is a rather rewarding cinematic experience.
"The Good Shepherd" tells the story of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a Yale graduate, member of the Skull and Bone secret society, husband and father and CIA operative. It's 1961 and the CIA is about to undergo a house clean, not trusting anyone he plays out his own espionage games as we are taken back to his early days at Yale, meeting the woman who would be his wife, Margaret Ann "Clover" Russell (Angelina Jolie), entering into the secret society and being involved in the birth of counter intelligence from his time served in Europe during the war to the formation of the CIA.
For all intents and purposes this is a spy film, but not as we have come to now them, this is no James Bond or Jason Bourne adventure; there are no flashy car chases, gun battles, explosions or stereotypical megalomaniacal villains to fight. No this is a much more subtle and gritty look at espionage. This delves into the mechanics of disinformation and covering your tracks, it's more about the politics and power than the actual spy in the field style film. So if you're going to watch this film be prepared for a lot of dialogue spoken softly throughout the film, patience and concentration are two things you'll need to get through this film. I found it quite easy immersing myself into this film, mainly because the dialogue was interesting, the performances were excellent and the back-and-forth editing kept the level of intrigue quite high. Roth's script is unconventional at best because for the first 30 minutes of this film you have no idea what's going on or what this film is really about...but it does something quite marvelous, it manages to hold your attention (at least for this reviewer anyway), this helped in part by the performances as mentioned before (more on that later). Roth then sends us back and forth between Edward's past and the present (1961) which keeps us guessing where the story will take us until the film's effective and affecting ending.
Driving Roth's dialogue is a cast of terrific performers including Damon, who manages a mature and complex turn as Edward. His progressive slip into the depths of CIA black operations places distance between him and family that is played in melodramatic tone alongside Angelina Jolie who dusts off her action movie persona and plays a damaged and lonely wife to heartbreaking effect. She's not in the film as much as Damon yet her scenes are powerful enough to remain memorable. Other notable appearances in the film include Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, John Turturro and Robert De Niro who are all at their dramatic best without being too showy. De Niro playing a very small role, but despite that manages to make you forget the fact he's been in nothing good since "Heat" (1995) and "Copland" (1997), maybe he should direct himself more often?
As I mentioned early in this review it's the film's snail pace and lengthy runtime that has put many people off, in fact a vast majority will not likely favor this film as it can easily be used as a sleep inducer. So if you're looking for car chases and over-the-stop stunts in your spy movies then you better look elsewhere because this film is certainly not for you.


Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 this anamorphic widescreen transfer is a solid effort from Universal. The image is sharp and detailed, the colors are muted in most cases and that presented accurately here. The blacks are bold and defined with consistent shadow detail throughout this print. I spotted no dirt or other problems aside from some very minor grain. I could not see any edge-enhancement problems or compression issues; overall I am very pleased with this excellent transfer.


Two audio tracks are included both of which are in Dolby Digital 5.1, they are in English and French. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack and was also impressed with it's depth considering this is a dialogue-heavy film. I was expecting a front heavy mix but what I got was a subtly immersive track that blends dialogue, moody music and ambient noise extremely well. The dialogue is clear and distortion free while the film's score breathes well throughout the 5.1 sound space. Each scene includes rich and un-intrusive atmospheric sounds that place you in the scene easily and all feels natural with nothing too out of place.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.


The only substantial extras on this disc are a series of 7 deleted scenes, these can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option, the scenes included are:

- "John Comes Home" runs for 4 minutes 2 seconds, Clover's brother returns home long after the war has ended, he explains to Edward that he was in a Japanese POW camp that was freed by the Russians, he was eventually let go as part of a diplomatic exchange.
- "Edward & Sam At The Train Station" runs for 1 minute 18 seconds, Edward and FBI man Sam spy on John who is seen delivering microfilm to the Russians.
- "Edward Confronts John" runs for 1 minute 42 seconds, Edward confronts John about what he saw him do at the train station.
- "Edward Asks Valentin To Play Violin" runs for 2 minutes 23 seconds, Edward and Ray get Valentin to play the violin to verify his identity.
- "John Enters Embassy, Edward & Clover Fight" runs for 2 minutes 2 seconds, John goes to the Russian Embassy while Edward and Sam run surveillance on him, later Clover is angry at Edward for not protecting her brother.
- "Ulysses Is Trying To Tell Us Something" runs for 2 minutes 12 seconds, Valentin translates a Russian communications which helps identify the Russian Spy in the tape recording Edward received early on.
- "Edward & Ray Pack Office" runs for 1 minute 50 seconds, Edward packs the office up as Ray tells him how he can't go to his daughter's school and tell the class what it is he does.

Rounding out the extras are a series of bonus trailers, these are start-up previews and can be skipped, they are for:

- "Smokin' Aces" which runs for 33 seconds.
- "HD DVD" spot which runs for 1 minute.
- "Law & Order" spot which runs for 30 seconds.
- "Hot Fuzz" which runs for 50 seconds.
- "Children Of Men" which runs for 33 seconds.

This is a rather poor collection of extras from Universal, for a film with such a long development history and the fact that it was a pet project for De Niro it would have been nice to hear from him in an audio commentary at the very least, and I'm sure some behind-the-scenes footage must have been shot? Why these things weren't included is anyone's guess.


The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: B+ Extras: D+ Overall: C+


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