As De Niro worked to complete the editing, it was unclear if the violin segment would even make it into the finished movie. The director's latest cut of "The Good Shepherd," which opens Dec. 22, was running at 2 hours, 40 minutes, and his distributors wanted 20 more minutes lopped off.
"It's not over till it's over," De Niro said during a late October visit to Los Angeles. "But I can't cut any more than I feel comfortable with."
At least he had something to cut. It took a dozen years to bring "The Good Shepherd" this far, a period in which the film passed through five other directors' hands. But with every false start, every maddening delay, the movie's subject matter grew only more timely.
"This is not 'The Bourne Identity,'" producer Jane Rosenthal said. "You have to get into the movie and pay attention."
But the production couldn't close DiCaprio's rich deal, and De Niro was worried the actor would first make Martin Scorsese's "The Departed." "I said one night, 'You have to let me know now. Are you in or are you out?' " De Niro said. "Because I had intentions to get it to Matt that night."
Damon also was starring in "The Departed," but he would be done earlier than DiCaprio, and the ever-busy Damon didn't want to take any time off before starting "The Good Shepherd."