MOSTLY MALDIRECTED MISHMASH OF MISCAST MUDDLED MELODRAMATIC “MESSAGE” MUSH.
If I was an editor for Variety, that might be the headline.
Elements of the story could have had an emotional impact, if it had been written and directed better. DiNiro flops in this one, both as director and supporting actor.
The biggest disappointment is: there’s a story in there somewhere that might have moved an audience—and enlightened it, especially about the damage done to so many people and nations, including our own, by the CIA.
The period covered—pre-WWII to 1961—is not only historically rich with examples of how evil the actions of this unconstitutional secret organization were, but actions that created the conditions that led to some of the worst recent history, i.e. in the Middle East and Africa.
What an opportunity to reach people who may have no idea the damage the ever-burgeoning secret organizations in our government have caused! Blown, along with any drama worth caring about.
There are some good performances—Billy Crudup’s upper-class Englishman is another example of how underrated this terrific actor often is. He’s outstanding, as is Alec Baldwin, once again shining brightly in a small but significant supporting role.
But Matt Damon, often so good, is either miscast or so poorly directed, that he becomes not only unbelievable as the character, especially as he ages, looking nearly the same age as his grown son in later scenes, but played in such a way that we don’t care about him or anything that happens to him.
Both miscast and poorly directed is another, often fine actor, Angelina Jolie, as Matt Damon’s character’s WASP wife. We’re supposed to believe Damon’s character isn’t attracted to her, and that she somehow represents the epitome of WASPy stiff-upper-lip acceptance of her fate as an ignored spouse. Sure.
The script is so full of holes and muddled exposition that it’s not only difficult to tell what’s actually going on but to even care. And about what really matters! Especially now, when secrecy has been so deeply a part of the current administration, and so much responsible for what is wrong in our country and the parts of the world that we have interfered in so drastically.
Just the simple reality that the CIA, and other secret agencies in our government, have so often provided faulty information that led to fiascos, of which the invasion of Iraq is only the latest most blatant example, might have been conveyed in the script in a way that the audience could not only understand but become emotionally invovled in. But no.
It’s interesting that the clearest indictment of hypocrisy in a government that claims to stand for truth and justice and then lies and is blatantly unjust—and in this time of a deep need for Hollywood to engage an audience in a national dialogue about the importance of addressing this issue—comes from Clint Eastwood, who once represented everything liberals and lefties were against back in the 1960s and ‘70s.
While Scorcese and DiNiro—who seemed to embody the courage it took to expose the lies and hypocrisy and injustice enacted and supported by what we used to call “the establishment”—have made movies so muddled—THE GOOD SHEPERD being much worse than THE DEPARTED, but both still nowhere near the kind of bombshells of reality these two men were throwing into the national arena back then—seem to be conveying a message that seems completely cynical—everything sucks so why bother.
It made me appreciate even more not only FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, but two other movies of 2006 that make up my three favorites of all I’ve seen so far—AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (have you read the recent news that one of the major ice shelfs in the Artic has broken away as a result of climate change?) and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (talk about good direction, there isn’t a bad performance in the film).
I highly recommend all three, if you haven't seen them yet. But stay away from THE bad GOOD SHEPERD.