10 Years: “The Good Shepherd”

Some film’s just can’t do it for you. Try all you want, it’s never going to happen. There can be so many reasons for that, and you may or may not be one of them. At least you tried. Sometimes it’s all that can be asked.

The Universal Pictures film “The Good Shepherd” could’ve been something great, but it would’ve needed many more rewrites and better control than it had.

So, when at first you don’t succeed, lull yourself into some false belief and try again. The only thing you’ll discover is you were right the first time. In this case, it’s the fact that there was a very good reason I was avoiding this film these past 10 years. I was strangely excited for this film turning 10, but now having sat through it, which I think took longer to complete than the film’s actual run time, I’m regretting every moment and the general decision to sit and watch it again. Once truly should’ve been enough, but I thought I knew better. Well, it’s that and I thought perhaps it was just that I was quite young when I first saw it. I hadn’t been exposed to so many different types of films, some more challenging than others, and thus couldn’t understand or appreciate the virtue of telling a lengthier story. As it turns out, it was none of those things. It was just the film’s fault. Wholly and completely.

To put it out there, and really nail my biggest grievance with this film, it comes in with a run time of two hours and forty-seven minutes. A nice short and quick film. With any other director or writer this might not have been a problem. I say this as I’ve seen many of those classic films that run for something like four hours. Film’s like “Cleopatra”, “Giant”, “Spartacus”, “Judgement at Nuremberg”, and, of course, “Gone with the Wind”, to name a few. Each had varying degrees of success, and hold special places in my heart, but if I can get through those, why not this one? This film’s certainly got a more intriguing premise than most of the others listed. And yet, here we are. Me hating this film, in part, because of its run time. I wonder what it would’ve looked like if Martin Scorsese (“The Wolf of Wall Street”, “The Aviator”) had directed it? Possibly not much better.

The reason why it probably wouldn’t have faired better is because of the film’s writer, Eric Roth. He just wrote too goddamned much. Somewhere along the way to the many pages he wrote, and which were filmed, he never thought it prudent to reevaluate and edit. Not every writer can be Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”, “Magnolia”). Even Anderson can’t be himself because then it’s all just tiresome. Because there was so much, along with an annoying approach that called for the film to jump back and forth between two different times (the past and present) every 15 minutes or so, keeping track of everything that was going on became quite a chore. I can usually do a decent job of keeping track of the multiple subplots and large casts, but here, it was impossible and none of it mattered anyway. I didn’t care about what the characters were doing or why or for whom. This goes back to the being too damn long. For some reason, Robert De Niro, being the director, and who knows how many other people, thought that this film needed a slow burn approach. Heavy emphasis on the slow. I’m of the belief that nothing was cut. They all decided to keep every bit that was filmed in the finished film. I managed to make it about 50 minutes, which itself was somewhat of an uphill climb, before I started checking out. I was bored. Uninterested. Tired. The film was putting me to sleep. Minute by minute I found myself becoming more and more tired. By film’s end, I honestly had no clue what the hell was going on. I knew there was a mystery in need of solving and backstory to be told through what amounts to lengthy flashbacks, but where it was headed and who had thus far been affected, was not something I could answer, even for myself. When the film finally ended, I just resigned myself to the fact that I got through it, albeit not in the way I wanted.

With a ridiculous length, made longer by the incredibly slow unspooling, I knew I didn’t stand a chance of enjoying anything else. I can’t tell you when that realization hit, but it did. And so, I didn’t enjoy anything else. Okay, that’s not technically true, I did like a lot of the costumes and sets and decorations, but when comparing it to everything else, that barely even registers. So back to not enjoying a thing! Most importantly, which is tied in with my not knowing what the hell was happening, I couldn’t find myself caring at all about any of the characters. A lot of times I didn’t even know who they were, or (again) what they were doing and why. For so many supporting actors, it was all so pointless. Worse yet, I couldn’t, and still can’t, figure out what Matt Damon was going for with this character and performance. It bordered on bad and overly complex. With his consistently non-emoting face, it made it difficult to see what exactly was affecting him. I couldn’t tell how one thing shaped him and how he dealt with all the moral questions that no doubt arose. Angelina Jolie faired a bit better, but not by much. She was the wife. That’s pretty much it. She was affected by Damon’s choices and showed it, but beyond that, she never really had much to do. While both of these characters were meant to be a focal point, and I could see some slight effort made with them, which like with the rest of the story could’ve been better handled, it didn’t much matter. Keeping one’s head from resting on a fluffy pillow is quite demanding work.

If there’s a trick to getting through a tedious film like this, I have yet to learn it. I can do all kinds of pep talks for days, and consume mass quantities of caffeine, but if the film can’t come together and keep me interested, it won’t matter the plot or which actors appear in it. No matter how hard you try, you can’t come around to liking some films, or even wanting to give them a second chance. At the very least, you now know for certain that lengthier film’s should probably be approached with caution.

This drama stars Damon (upcoming “The Great Wall”, “Jason Bourne”), Jolie (“Kung Fu Panda 3”, “By the Sea”), Alec Baldwin (upcoming “The Boss Baby”, “Rules Don’t Apply”), Tammy Blanchard (“Bull”, “Tallulah”), Billy Crudup (upcoming “20th Century Women”, “Jackie”), Robert De Niro (“The Comedian”, “Hands of Stone”), Keir Dullea (“The Path”, “Infinitely Polar Bear”), Michael Gambon (“The Hollow Crown”, “Churchill’s Secret”), Martine Gedeck (“Das Tagebuch Dee Anne Frank”, “I’m Off Then”), William Hurt (“Goliath”, “Captain America: Civil War”), Timothy Hutton (upcoming season “American Crime”, “Public Morals”), Mark Ivanir (upcoming episode “Blindspot”, “The Man Who Was Thursday”), Gabriel Macht (upcoming episodes “Suits”, “Braking at the Edge”), Lee Pace (“Halt and Catch Fire”, “Nature is Speaking”), Joe Pesci (“Savva. Serdtse voina”, “Love Ranch”), Eddie Redmayne (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, “The Danish Girl”), John Sessions (“Denial”, “Florence Foster Jenkins”), Oleg Shtefanko (“Dva plyus dva”, “Lesnik 3”), and John Turturro (upcoming “Landline”, “Hands of Stone”).

The film was directed by De Niro (“A Bronx Tale”) and written by Roth (“Ellis (Short 2015)”, “Luck”).

It originally opened on Dec. 22, 2006. It would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award among a handful of other nominations and some wins.

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