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The Good Shepherd
De Niro’s long-awaited pet project
The Good Shepherd
Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie Star in the Romantic/Drama "The Good Shepherd".
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $76,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

July 12th, 2006: Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) is a gifted young student at Yale and a member of the secretive Skull and Bones fraternity, a breeding ground for future world leaders. His flawless reputation and spotless record as well as his steadfast belief in the American way make him an ideal candidate for a position in the government’s intelligence division. Recruited to work for the CIA during its inception at the time of the Second World War, Edward rapidly positions himself as one of the founding fathers of the organization’s principles, methods, and techniques. As he becomes lost in a life of duplicity and intense espionage, his home life begins to degrade substantially and his marriage to wife Clover (Angelina Jolie) becomes virtually non-existent. With the approach of the Cold War, Edward’s paranoia and obsessive dedication takes on a new level of madness, causing him to mistrust even his closest friends at the agency. With his early idealism completely eroded by his self-destructive approach to work, Edward struggles to maintain some sanity late in his life.

What to Expect: The film is based on the life of James Jesus Angleton, who, in his lengthy career as a director of the CIA’s counterintelligence staff, was almost single-handedly responsible for shaping the universally accepted espionage methods used by every nation today. Even the KGB followed his procedures to train their officers. His natural genius for thorough understanding of spy techniques remains unsurpassed to this day, but aside from being a revered professional he was also considered one of the most controversial figures in the intelligence community. His extreme passion was frequently fueled by a paranoia that may have been clinical.

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Angleton grew up mostly in Rome, Italy (perhaps this is why he caught De Niro’s eye) and by the time he was studying at Yale, he had become an insomniac. Recruited by the CIA shortly after its formation, he became the head of the Counterintelligence Staff in 1954, a position he would retain for the remainder of his career. Characterized by his co-workers as a chain smoking workaholic, he had no reservations about putting his colleagues under surveillance for even the most minor offenses. Throughout his career, Angleton was instrumental in uncovering KGB moles within the organization, but as his paranoia intensified, he became convinced that the CIA was entirely compromised by Soviet intelligence. During the 1960s and 1970s he accused various world leaders of being communist spies and even hypothesized that the anti-war and civil rights movements were funded and supported by foreign powers. Largely due to his contention that JFK was under Soviet influence, Angleton has been cited in conspiracy literature as a chief figure in the president’s assassination. The relentlessness of his convictions frequently put him in conflict with the rest of the CIA, up until his retirement.

Robert De Niro’s part fact, part fiction pet project has been in development for about a decade. Numerous problems delayed the production until very recently. Surprisingly, the character drama boasts a fairly steep $110 million budget, which was the primary reason why IEG bailed out from helping finance it for international distribution. Additionally, De Niro’s bout with cancer, which he eventually won in 2003, was one of the fundamental reasons for the delay. For the notorious actor, this is his second directing effort after the wonderfully engaging A Bronx Tale, which he helmed way back in 1993. That feature proved that he had a tremendous talent for storytelling and I think he is long overdue for another attempt. He is working from a screenplay written by Academy Award winner Eric Roth, who penned scripts for several Oscar nominated features, like The Insider, Munich, and Forrest Gump. He won the award for the latter. While the film lingered in development hell throughout the years, Roth’s script earned the distinction of being named “Hollywood’s best unproduced script.” That’s a very positive factoid about a feature that will see a theatrical release after all.

Casting Edward Wilson proved to be another obstacle in the movie’s progress. Leonardo DiCaprio was originally slated to play the lead, but dropped out shortly before filming began. Matt Damon was selected to replace him and appears to be an equally appropriate choice. He brings some espionage experience from the sets of the two Jason Bourne thrillers, as well as last year’s dense, politically charged, oil conspiracy film Syriana. However, playing Edward Wilson should prove to be a much more complex and personally challenging task for Damon. There is certainly a possibility of a best actor Oscar nomination for him for the first time in nearly a decade. De Niro’s contribution to the thriller extends to in front of the camera and not only just behind it. The actor portrays General Bill Sullivan, a U.S. Army official who first recruits Wilson into the intelligence community. Recent media darling Angelina Jolie will play Wilson’s wife in the movie. Clover Wilson is described as a moody and troubled woman that develops a problem with alcohol as well as unhealthy feelings of jealousy and neediness toward her husband. For Jolie, who won an Oscar for the mentally unstable Lisa in Girl, Interrupted, it should be a return to a more demanding role following the numerous blockbusters she has been doing lately. Most importantly, De Niro was able to coax his longtime friend Joe Pesci out of an eight-year retirement for a cameo in the film. In his first role since Lethal Weapon 4, Pesci plays Joseph Palmi, a mobster (surprise) under Wilson’s surveillance. Reportedly, the role is small, but proves to be quite pivotal. And if this principal cast is somehow not good enough for you, the film boasts an impressive list of names in supporting roles, so make sure to take a look.

This has been De Niro’s labor of love for the past decade and clearly illustrates the influence that Martin Scorsese has had on the actor over the years. The highly inquisitive, personal, and psychological study of the main character greatly resembles the focus of Scorsese’s many masterpieces over the years. The auteur’s convincing take on the destructively compulsive Howard Hughes in The Aviator seems especially comparable to what De Niro will attempt in his film. The political content in The Good Shepherd should prove to be quite relevant in today’s times. Perhaps De Niro is attempting to draw parallels here between Wilson and other, current world leaders. Ideally, through this downward spiral tale of self-destruction, De Niro is looking to put himself in contention at next year’s Academy Awards. It would be a tremendous upset, however, if somehow he manages to steal an award before his mentor Scorsese, who is still seeking his first Oscar, possibly with this year’s The Departed.

In Conclusion: With the actors that appear on the cast list, The Good Shepherd is a highly marketable drama that is likely to become an audience favorite during the Holiday season. The spy thriller elements will engage people, while the serious character study will stimulate their minds. James Jesus Angleton’s exploits at the CIA represent a dark and fascinating part of American history and a fictionalized dramatization in the hands of a Martin Scorsese would have been the stuff of gold. However, I feel that De Niro will rise to the occasion here. If he succeeds, an Oscar would not be out of the question. Anyway, this would not be the first time Scorsese would be passed over by an actor-turned-director since the Academy tends to enjoy giving their awards out to that select group (just look at Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, and… Ron Howard).

Similar Titles: The Aviator, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, A Bronx Tale
December 22nd, 2006 (wide)
April 3rd, 2007 (DVD)

Universal Pictures

Robert De Niro

Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, John Turturro, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, Timothy Hutton, Chazz Palminteri, Jason Patric, Keir Dullea, Gabriel Macht

Total: 108 vote(s).

Drama, Romance, Suspense

Click here to view site

Rated R for some violence, sexuality and language

167 min





The Good Shepherd at AskMen.com

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