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The Good Shepherd  rating

Review: written 2008

I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with d… for dull.

 The Good Shepherd

De Niro makes a surprising move here into spy territory - not modern Bourne type stuff (despite the presence of Matt Damon) but more like an American John Le Carre type story, in its understated events and emphasis on character. It's a noble endeavour, at times wonderfully shot - however, it is ultimately flawed as a piece of entertainment.

The story revolves around the creation of the CIA, seen through the eyes of Edward Wilson (a composite of several real-life characters). It plays as a character driven story showing what can make a man choose a life of permanent paranoia and secrecy, and the impact that has on his personal life. In this way the atmosphere around the time of the new Agency's genesis is portrayed rather than a strict blow by blow account of how it came to be. A superb and committed cast have been gathered, (including a blink and you'll miss it cameo from Joe Pesci), and there is a clear feeling of the proceedings oozing talent - from art direction and photography, through to actors and music.

However, there is something about the pacing that is not quite right - at 160 minutes, we should have some significant moments of drama to drive our interest on, but somehow we are left with a spy story of non-people and non-events... a spy movie without the suspense. There's an interesting enough story arc for our main character, and the audience is asked to be intelligent enough to fill in some gaps - but the padding has turned what could have been an atmospheric and informative movie into something bloated and dull. This is no epic or definitive account.

Regular readers of mine will know I am no huge fan of rapid-fire MTV style editing a la `Armageddon' and its ilk - but a movie still has to have some drive and entertainment value. That's missing here, despite the core of the movie having some very interesting things to say about the disease of loneliness and what it does to a man. Sad to say, no endorsement from me on this one, even though it has moments that really make me want to like it.

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