3. The Good Shepherd
If you claim to long for movies like the ones they made in the '70s, Robert De Niro's heady and intoxicating inquiry into the early decades of the CIA is what you've been waiting for. It transcends the espionage thriller in much the same way that The Godfather transcended the gangster genre, though be warned: As written by Eric Roth, this is a spy film of hints and shadows, of barely glimpsed connections, of the murk that's stirred by human ghosts. It's a movie that perches you on the edge of your brain.
As a reined-in golden boy who rises from the Skull and Bones society of Yale in the late '30s to join a more potent secret sect, that of America's burgeoning counterintelligence wing, Matt Damon gives a quiet, haunted performance that holds you with its recessive stealth; he's the spook as invisible-man functionary. As you track this cipher patriot through a paranoid world of rickety identity, wondering as much as he does who to trust, what emerges is a vision of the United States and the Soviet Union locked in a duel of mutually destructive mirages.
I thought, in fact, The Departed was the most impressive. The movie is stylized [and] a bit operatic. Everybody in the picture gives a pretty fine performance... Ray Winstone, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin. I'm very happy about the response to the two leading guys, Leo [DiCaprio] and Matt [Damon]. They got a beautiful response.
At the end of comic Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show he often says, "My apologies to Matt Damon; we ran out of time." What's the story?
Barb Ericksen, Livonia, Mich.
It's a joke, started after Kimmel had a run of B-list guests. He thought it'd be funny to say he bumped a superstar for them. "It's amusing when the lesser-name guests believe it," says Kimmel, 39. Why Damon? "His name just popped into my head." Eventually, Damon went on the show. The two planned for Kimmel to run out of time as Damon sat down and for Damon to curse him. Kimmel says people thought their act was real. Kimmel continues the bit because it still gets a laugh, and "that was the deal. [Damon] didn't want me to stop."
Despite its flaws, there's a lot to admire about the film. The most successful element is Damon's spot-on performance as the zipper-lipped Wilson. Admirably sticking to the non-emotive essence of the character from beginning to end, Damon never draws on any actor's techniques to make Wilson seem more likeable or to hint at dimensions that should stay completely hidden. Like his earlier portrayal of Tom Ripley, Damon's Wilson is a smart man who's completely lacking in emotional intelligence. He operates solely by gaming people and making educated guesses about what they want to hear.
Grand Rapids Press
The subtlety with which Damon depicts Wilson's complexities is extraordinary. This isn't a vacant stare behind these horn-rimmed frames -- it's dedication, frustration, devotion, love, hate and fear, compartmentalized and compressed, frozen in a psychological glacier adorned with aural and ocular amplification.
Damon dazzled with arrogant charm earlier this year in "The Departed," but his "Shepherd" performance is nearly the opposite -- Wilson is a psychological labyrinth put on slow boil. It's acting by diffusion, and so understated, it's practically molecular.
As spymaster Edward Wilson, Matt Damon is closer to a dedicated civil servant than he is to Jason Bourne -- or James Bond. Wilson wears glasses, reads poetry and spends most of his time behind a desk. He gives nothing away, listens closely, speaks minimally. It is Matt Damon's most refined and mature performance to date.
Between this film and The Departed, Matt Damon has given us his best year as an actor. True, he goes back to his comfort zone of franchise work next year with both Ocean's 13 and The Bourne Ultimatum coming out in the summer, but those are hardly films to dread. But it's his work in The Good Shepherd that shows us a side to his abilities yet untapped. This restrained performance somehow still manages to show us the heart of a man whom the government would prefer be heartless. Check this film out immediately.
Las Vegas Review Journal
Overall, however, "The Good Shepherd" lives (or dies) on the power of its protagonist -- and Damon once again demonstrates his flair for creating inscrutably devious characters. From the twisted, "Talented Mr. Ripley" to "The Departed's" crafty cop, Damon excels at tempering his forthright, all-American presence with a quiet but undeniable duplicity.
It's what makes him such an interesting actor -- and, ultimately, it's what makes "The Good Shepherd" such an interesting movie.