Robert De Niro’s hugely ambitious history of the C.I.A., "The Good Shepherd," is one of the last movies to be unveiled for the year-end awards races. At three hours with a cast led by Matt Damon as the ultimate colorless C.I.A. operative and Angelina Jolie as his frustrated, disillusioned wife, "Good Shepherd" will undoubtedly divide people.
But this years-in-coming project, which at one point was to be a Francis Ford Coppola film and then was taken over by De Niro with John Frankenheimer’s death, has a masterful ease. Somber, melancholy and spanning decades as it follows Damon’s self-effacing, buttoned-up operative, a paranoid intellectual never seen without glasses, suit, tie, trench coat and grim visage, "The Good Shepherd" travels back from the debacle that was the C.I.A.’s Bay of Pigs failure, the deadly plan to retake Cuba from Castro in April 1961 under John F. Kennedy, to 1939 when Damon’s Yalie is recruited as a spy and becomes during WWII in England a key figure in America’s first overseas spy operation, the O.S.S.
After the war, the O.S.S. becomes the C.I.A. As the Cold War with Russia looms, Damon’s homelife with unhappy wife and fearful son disintegrates. "Good Shepherd" connects the reality of spying and keeping secrets with the contradiction of having any kind of a happy relationship. The tragic choice here is stated simply: Do you choose your country or your family? De Niro manages a succession of splendid set pieces, including a fascist-style London street assassination that made me think of HBO’s "Rome," two very different interrogations of Russian defectors, the second spiked with LSD, and the deconstruction and examination of a Russian-provided black-and-white amateur film that leads Damon to the Belgian Congo and awful personal realizations.
As an Oscar candidate, "Good Shepherd" is not going to win any acting nominations despite a supporting cast that includes Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, an excellent Tammy Blanchard as Damon’s first love, and Jolie. You don’t win Best Actor Oscar nominations by playing faceless operatives who never show emotion, so Damon is out of the running as well. "Good Shepherd" rates as a longshot for a Best Picture slot, as does De Niro for Best Director and Eric Roth for Best Screenplay. Those stakes depend primarily on critics’ reviews and audience reception.
Thoughtful, intelligent and ambitious "Good Shepherd" easily ranks as among the year’s riskiest and, for me, most rewarding pictures.
[For 'Bourne Ultimatum'] I have no idea until I see a script at the very least, which I haven't yet. I've been brought on to do it, but I won’t really get into it just yet.
I don't know, it will be interesting to see! I don't even know the story at the moment, but I know it picks up in New York where the second film left off, but we'll see. The music will basically be designed to hopefully take us to the same places the film does.