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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Good Shepherd (2006)

"I let a stranger into our house."
- Edward Wilson (Matt Damon)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 05, 2007

Stars: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro
Other Stars: Alec Baldwin, Tammy Blanchard, Billy Crudup, Keir Dullea, Martina Gedeck, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Lee Pace, Eddie Redmayne, John Sessions, Oleg Stefan, John Turturro, Joe Pesci
Director: Robert De Niro

MPAA Rating: R for some violence, sexuality and language
Run Time: 02h:47m:21s
Release Date: April 03, 2007
UPC: 025192867125
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BB- C-

DVD Review

Every generation of Americans, it seems, goes through its own shattering experience of disillusionment—you see this mourning for our collective loss of innocence running from at least the Civil War up through the war to end all wars, to the greatest generation, to November in Dallas, and to the attacks of September 11th and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On some level it's only the scenery that changes, or the enemy, and The Good Shepherd is about not just the birth of the CIA, but of the double dealing that was so central to the American century. Robert De Niro's movie is extraordinarily ambitious and tells its story on a grand scale—it's very good with much of history, but it lacks personal, emotional resonance, particularly surprising given the fact that its director is one of the great screen actors. It works best as a panorama or a pageant; even on those terms, though, there's a whole lot of guys in suits and hats and trenchcoats trading coded information in dark corners.

Matt Damon stars as Edward Wilson, who could well be a character in The Best and the Brightest, descending from the WASP tradition of muscular Christianity, educated at Yale, the heir of a family committed to public service with an air of noblesse oblige. The film's framing story is about how badly the agency botched it in 1961 with the Bay of Pigs, and we return time and again to Wilson sussing out just what went wrong—he's the recipient of a tantalizing, partially opaque reel of footage that gets decoded much like the audiotape so central to The Conversation. From there we flash back through Wilson's life, and there are flashbacks within flashbacks—he's tapped for Skull and Bones at Yale, and then pressed into the service of his country when World War II begins. He'll serve, though, not on the front lines, but in the cloak-and-dagger world of counterintelligence, first parrying with the Germans, and then after the war with the Soviets.

Damon's Wilson is laconic and humorless—traits that make him a great spy, but are more problematic for the hero of a movie that's close to three hours long. He's cultivated clamping down his emotions—a pull quote on the DVD case compares this movie to The Godfather, and though The Good Shepherd lacks that film's grandeur and mischievousness, Wilson emotionally is much like Michael Corleone in Part II, a man so committed to his work and disconnected from his family that he's become a kind of Frankenstein. Eric Roth wrote the screenplay, which shares the intelligence of his work on The Insider, and given the huge scope of this movie, it's almost like Edward Wilson is an Ivy League Forrest Gump.

Frequently, though, we feel we're at sea, because Edward is as distant from us as he is from everybody else, and many of the scenes are just variations on the same template—natty and possibly wicked men sliding envelopes under one another's doors, having another cocktail, and trying to decipher one another's clues. It's no surprise that De Niro was able to attract an extraordinary cast, though—Damon is in almost every scene of the movie, and it's kind of a thankless part, all steel and repression, so it's the supporting actors who seem to be having a better time of it. Michael Gambon is wonderful as a lecherous literature professor with plans for young Edward; Alec Baldwin has a gruff, sinister quality as an FBI man well positioned to scratch Edward's back. Timothy Hutton appears only briefly as Edward's father, and Joe Pesci has a great little scene as an aging mobster threatened with deportation—his character and Hyman Roth clearly share a decorator.

Angelina Jolie is little more than ornamentation, unfortunately—her character takes an awful journey, starting as a smoking little vixen tempting a collegiate Edward, then marrying him and spiraling down into a life of neglect, depression and cocktails. Part of the point, certainly, is what a boys' club the agency was, but in a movie of such epic ambitions, it seems too bad that Jolie can't be pressed into better service. (De Niro himself has a small role, too, as the architect of the agency—as the ultimate spy, disease leads to a series of amputations, allowing him to disappear before our very eyes.) Tammy Blanchard is briefly heartbreaking as Edward's first love, now twice shy; John Turturro also gets a limited amount to do as Edward's chief aide.

This is a movie with a love for technology, too, reveling in every teletype machine, reel-to-reel tape, spindly old 8 millimeter projector it can find; and it's an extraordinarily handsome production, with terrific work from (among others) cinematographer Robert Richardson. It's geometrically more ambitious than De Niro's first film as a director—A Bronx Tale was a neighborhood story, and this wants to do nothing less than take in all of the Cold War. It may be a little ponderous at times, but you've got to have all the respect in the world for this accomplishment.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The transfer favors the darker hues, as does the cinematography—the palette leans heavily on the black levels, which don't always come through as strongly as one might hope. Also, occasional scratches on the print are evident.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The movie sounds a little overmixed on the 5.1 track—so much of the dialogue is delivered in hushed tones that the ambient noise and effects can overwhelm the words. More than once I kept my finger on the subtitles button of the remote.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Smokin' Aces, HD-DVD format, Law and Order, Hot Fuzz, Children of Men
7 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The paucity of extras is a serious disappointment, given the possibilities—all that's here is a package (15m:58s) of seven deleted scenes, many of which are simply variants of scenes that made it into the final cut.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

An enormously ambitious film that, oddly, doesn't always take advantage of some of its best and most evident assets. It's a film more to respect than to love—it's a bit too chilly for any displays of affection, but a tip of the fedora to De Niro, Roth and their colleagues for working reasonably successfully on such a large scale.


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