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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Drama > Thriller > Gangster > The Good Shepherd (HD-DVD/DVD Combo Disc)

The Good Shepherd (HD-DVD/DVD Combo Disc)


Picture: B+/B-     Sound: B+/B-     Extras: C     Film: B+



The big debate on Spy films for the last few years had to do with the Bond films being in trouble and would there be a successor to the longtime franchise.  Many Spy films surfaced, but most were lame and the Bond series shocked the industry by getting back on track with Casino Royale in a way no one could have imagined.  Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne films were the most serious of competitors, but this still only applied to Action Spy films.  That is why The Good Shepherd is such a welcome surprise.


Robert DeNiro directed the underrated A Bronx Tale about a decade ago and it was an amazing film.  When it was finally announced he would direct again, those who loved the film thought it would be great news.  What has resulted is an amazing film of the kind we rarely see, a Spy film with a brain that would fall under the “bureaucratic” world of the business we rarely see or hear about.


But this one is based on the rise of the current C.I.A. and Damon is actually cast as Edward Wilson, a man who by trail and error becomes one of the main founders of the organization in its current form, one that grew out of the O.S.S. from WWII and developed into the top tool of the government to fight The Cold War for better and worse.  Damon has to juggle his family and new wife Clover (Angelina Jolie in one of her more interesting performances of late) with a child on the way.  Then he has to contend with those who want him dead.


The film pulls no punches about power, the coldness of the world, manipulation on the highest levels and is a fair critique of the C.I.A. that shows its good and bad sides.  Note the masterful use of sound and the clues we are given about what is going on without spoonfeeding every detail as if the audience is smart.  You have to have a good attention span when watching, but it pays off nicely and now that this is hitting HD-DVD and DVD-Video, will hopefully get the big audience it deserves.


Francis Ford Coppola was a co-producer and some of the organization/family dichotomies he made famous with his Godfather films are here, but they are not overdone and never become a spoof of themselves.  Instead, the film stays focused on its story that covers several decades in its always interesting 168 minutes, evoking another Coppola classic, The Conversation.  Eric Roth delivers an amazing script that is multi-layered, complex and always holds together.  In repeat viewings, it becomes apparent that this is the best Spy film of its kind in a very long time, worthy of classics like The Ipcress File.


DeNiro shows up himself as General Bill Sullivan, who trusts Wilson as the man to start the organization with a new budget, effectiveness and importance that even they could not imagine as they form it.  John Turturro is effective as Wilson’s friend and assistant Ray, Eddie Redmayne is disturbingly naïve as the son of The Wilsons, Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey) is Edward’s father-in-law, William Hurt is creepy as fellow spymaster Philip Allen, Joe Pesci is unforgettable as head gangster Joseph Palmi in a brilliant scene where Edward pressures him for information after Castro overthrows the Cuban Government and the rest of the cast is just right for this great film.  Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon and Timothy Hutton also star.



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on the HD side looks good, but like the anamorphically enhanced DVD side and 35mm print, Robert Richardson’s cinematography has a slight haze throughout that may be from the stylization, but also from the digital internegative that may make some mistake this at times for an HD shoot when it is really Super 35mm filming.  With that said, the film is trying to emulate a look somewhere between old Cold War films and “official government” films with interesting moments of other stylizations that contrast those cold worlds to warmer ones.  This happens when there are family get-togethers or Damon enters unusual domestic or naturalistic territory.


The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix is not bad, better than the compressed-sounding standard Dolby on the DVD side and displays the Marcelo Zarvos/Bruce fowler score nicely, a score that is more effective than it might first seem.  I once again wished this was in DTS or either DTS HD or Dolby TrueHD despite its subtle nature.  Still, it just outdoes the Standard Dolby on the DVD-Video version, which seems more limited than it should.


Extras on both sides are extras scenes amounting to 16 minutes, all of which are interesting, but the HD version shows them in HD, which is a nice plus.  The Good Shepherd is one of the most underrated films of 2006 and is highly recommended.  It might even be a classic.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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