DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of The Good Shepherd, The Good German, The Confessor, Breach, The Recruit, Black Book, Reign of Terror, The Good Mother


Title:  The Good Shepherd

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 159 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Universal/Morgan Creek/Tribeca

Director; Writer: Robert De Niro, wr. Eric Roth

Producer:  James G. Robinson

Cast:  Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert de Niro. Alec Baldwin, Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Hutton, William Hurt

Technical: Full 2:3 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  CIA

The movie presents the history of the early days of CIA (notice the absence of an article, as with God), up to the days of the building of Langley, through the career of one Edward Wilson (Matt Damon).


Edward witnesses his fatherís suicide (in 1925) and then undergoes a 1939 initiation into the Skull and Bones Society at Yale (a bit like the Tribunals that I skipped at William and Mary in 1961, maybe? Ė no, this was worse: men dunked in dung, and sprayed upon with golden showers). As World War II approaches, he is approached to join the intelligence services. (He is told General Sullivan (Robert De Niro), that they don't accept negroes or Jews and few Catholics, although the General is a Catholic! They are doing this for the country!) He is the sort of young man that will relish the lifetime of adventure for its own sake. When Clover (Angelina Jolie) challenges his masculinity in a scene that seems too restrained, be follows through, and there is a subsequent scene on the beach. A baby results, and the couple marries without being in love. Nevertheless, they raise a fine son (Eddie Redmayne), who wants to follow in his fatherís footsteps.


Edward is protective of his own son, the only piece of family in his life that means anything. Yet, as decent and moral as Edward tries to be, his own life comes first; and as much as he love his own flesh-and-blood son, family for its own sake is definitely an afterthought. His wife accuses him of "abandoning people" although they are people he chose to relate to. The son shows his emotional problems with an incontinence problem at a party (forcing Edward to tend to him in an oddly intimate if distant scene), but grows up to be a self-determined person himslef.  As the Bay of Pigs approaches in 1961, his son (whose appearance is an interesting combination of boyishness and maturity) overhears a conversation. Eventually, security is compromised and Edward has to sell out to protect his son. Some plot twists get him through all this.


The story is framed from the days in April 1961 before the Bay of Pigs, and is told in many flashbacks, all the way back to 1925, and building through World War II and the international politics of the Cold War.  The film moves in andante pace and is leisurely, and lets the viewer soak in the history, an auteurishness that may seem pompous to some moviegoers but suits this kind of material. There is one harrowing scene where a defector is interrogated, beaten, scissor-stripped, humiliated and then given waterboarding as Edward watches. He is there for the worst of the black ops, but always tries to keep his hands clean. Edward will not be afraid to sacrifice another life to save his own son. Matt Damon plays steadily at various ages, from 20 to 50, without changing that much (we havenít seen Matt Damon be middle aged before). Robert De Niro, as General Bill Sullivan, makes us squeamish as he talks about the toll of his diabetes on his feet (thankfully he doesnít appear in shorts). The script uses foreshadowing a lot, with copies of James Joyceís novel Ulysses, and with a model of a sailing ship. Intelligence, at one point before the Bay of Pigs, describes the Soviet Union as "rusted over red" and that the military industrial complex needs war to meet its own ends.  


This film should not be confused with an unrelated Canadian film of the same name from Sony in 2004, also released as "The Confessor." (2004, Peace Arch, dir. Lewin Webb, 91 min, sug R) in which Christian Slater plays Daniel Clemens, a worldly priest pretty good at raising money if a little short as a celebrant. He tries to defend a young, sincere (and perhaps gay) priest (Von Flores) suspected of murdering a male hustler. Then this priest commits suicide in jail. Diocese politics follow. A journalist and former girl friend (Molly Parker) tries to help. Stephen Rea is McCaran, in a film too conventional for his pointed talents. A rather conventional thriller, a bit low key. Filmed on location in Hamilton, Ontario in the dead of winter. Compare to "Deliver Us from Evil" (below).   


The Good German (2006, Warner Brothers/Section Eight, dir. Steven Soderbergh, novel by Joseph Kanon, screenplay by Paul Attanasio, 108 min, R, USA/Germany) is being sold as a filmmaker's indulgence in 40s film noir, with a replication of the style. The photography is black and white, and the screen-size slightly reduced to old aspect ratios (I would have preferred black and white Cinemascope). The schmaltzy music by Thomas Newman stuns in Dolby Digital, with a great climax at the end as the plane carrying Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) takes off in the fog, Casablanca style. Her husband was the Good German, Emil (Christian Oliver) was a handsome scientific clerk to a Nazi scientist working on rockets and the A-bomb for Hitler, and she has been hiding him in the tunnels in post WWII Berlin in 1945. The plot end-arounds: she has tried to get ambitious motor pool driver Patrick Tully (Tobey Maguire) to help get him out. Maguire always looks boyish (Vanity Fair articles have described him as a video game pro), and here he is engaging and yet vicious at the same time (Tobey almost never plays a negative character). He drives for military journalist Jacob Geismer (George Clooney), who gets drawn into the plot, as Churchill, Stalin and Truman meet in Potsdam to map the course of the world. Both sides are trying to get hold of scientists with nuclear weapons expertise, and cover the procurements up, so there is plenty of deception, which sometimes affects the viewer. Early in the film, Tully says that war was good for him even if bad for people, because it gave him the money he needs to be himself.  Although dealing with subject matter similar to "The Good Shepherd" this is a stylistic contrast. It moves quickly, allegro, and keeps its characters funny even if the subject matter is so serious. Soderbergh, however, is considered a master of pacing and storytelling (as he resequenced the film "Keane").  He once praised us writers at an Oscar ceremony for giving him all of our stories.  With my own material, I have wondered what Colonial Williamsburg would look like in black and white in a flashback setting.


Breach (2007, Universal/Sidney Kimmel, dir. Billy Ray, 110 min, PG-13, p-1,a-2,t-1) dramatizes the apprehension of former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), guilty of passing secrets to the Soviets or Russians for 20 years and of the most serious security breach ever, even surpassing Aldrich Ames, mentioned in the movie (apprehended leaving his home on President's Day 1994).  Hanssen will be apprehended after making a drop in Foxstone Park in Fairfax County, VA on a cold Sunday in late February. He is now spending a life sentence in supermax and solitary confinement in Colorado.


The movie is told from the point of view of the computer geek planted to spy on him and bring him down. That is Eric O'Neill (Ryan Philippe) who can strike up a chemistry with Hanssen because he is a good Irish Catholic who even knows what Opus Dei is. Eric has a beautiful wife Julia (Caroline Dhavernas) who is not supposed to get in on what is going on, but she inevitably will when Eric takes work home, which surprises me. The agent who hires him is Kate Burroughs (Laura Linney, who sort of acts the part as a Jodie Foster impersonation). Kate is a single woman with no family (as in "The Business of Strangers") and even no cat.  Cooper does play the part of a chilling creep, someone whom you would expect to show up at a Perverted Justice sting house on NBC Dateline's "To Catch a Predator." Kate calls him (although he is married with an ample lineage) a sex pervert, with a penchant for heterosexual voyeurism and possibly taping girls secretly. He even wants to hardwire an Internet connection in his office to the ceiling, presumably so that he can watch porn at work and not get caught (hardly likely). Hanssen's motives are never really fully explained.


The film had an opportunity to explore more clearly the lack of coordination between law enforcement and intelligence branches before the 9/11 attacks. Information technology protocol in the FBI is depicted as clumsy, however, and that is the pretext for the phony position given to Hanssen so that O'Neill can spy on him, right in the FBI building in downtown Washington (the Landmark E-Street cinema is right across the street now!) One part of the solutions sounds "simple": XML. 


The film has many effective location shots of Washington DC and Arlington, especially near the Potomac River. It is February and most of the scenes have snow. But some of the film was shot in Toronto, and the director belongs to the DGC.


The Recruit (2003, Touchstone, dir. Roger Donaldson) Brilliant college graduate James Douglas Clayton (Colin Farrell) is recruited to work for the CIA by Walter Burker (Al Pacino). The film shows quite graphically the training he goes through, which is comparable (or worse) to something like special forces in the military. He needs his own kind of unit cohesion. Soon he has a relationship within the ranks with another recruit Layla (Bridget Moynahan), and is "recruited" again to root out a mole.


The Good Mother (1988, Touchstone, dir. Leonard Nimoy, novel by Sue Miller). Another film with the word "good." Here, a woman Anna Dunlap (Diane Keaton) has custody of Molly and has an affair with sculptor Leo Cutter (Liam Neeson). Molly walks in on an intimate scene and does not realize what is going on until later, when she tells her dad, the ex-husband Brian (James Naughton) who, unfortunately for Anna, is a trial lawyer. He sues for custody, claiming that Anna molested her daughter, although the charge is contrived.  There is an early scene where Anna relates that she is happy to have met an artist who "is not gay."  The film climaxes with good courtroom drama, in the mother lode of judicial activism, Massachusetts.


Black Book ("Zwartboek", 2006, Sony Pictures Classics / Clockwork, dir. Paul Verhoeven, 135 min, Netherlands / in Dutch, German, Hebrew and English; Cinemascope, hard R) is an epic film about a Dutch Jewish girl Carice (Rachel van Houten) who barely survives the Nazis in 1944 and then joins the resistance. As she and her family tries to flee in a boat in the marshes, all but her are shot; she survives by swimming underwater to safety. Eventually, she infiltrates and has an affair with a Nazi officer Ludwig (Sebastian Koch). She really gets into it, dyeing her hair to look "Aryan" and even bleaching her pubic hair in one scene. Eventually, more intrigues uncover as the Allies close in, with resistance fighter lists maintained in a "black book" that seems as dangerous in their era as the Internet might be today. After liberation, which is quite spirited in the Amsterdam streets, the intrigues and carnage continue behind the scenes. In one scene, Carice is covered with human excrement. The film is framed as a flashback from a kibbutz on the Dead Sea or Sea of Galilee, with some spectacular shots. The original music score by Anne Dudley is schmaltzy and in "film noir" style of "Good German"; the widescreen photography is crisp and rather metallic in colors, giving the Low Country an odd wartime look. This ambitious film (by indie standards) ran into budget snags and delays before being fully greenlighted by European investors. This film had already been distributed by Sony before the 2007 international festival circuit started.  


The Black Book ("Reign of Terror", 1949, Eagle Lion / Walter Wanger, dir. Anthony Mann, story by Aeneas Mackenzie and Philip Yordan, 89 min, PG-13) is another setting of the "black book" idea, this time during the French Revolution and afterwards, with an matrix-plot effect surprisingly predictive of Verhoeven's film about the Nazi occupation. Richard Basehart is Maximilian Robespierre, the rennaissance man cum tyrant who keeps the book of anti-government sympathizers, and the book may or not be stolen and in the "wrong hands." In fact, there are many black books. Kind of anticipates today's USA Patriot Act!  At one point, Barrs (Richard Hart) asks a little boy "Would you like to be a soldier when you grow up?" Robert Cummings is Charles d'Aubigny, the "Terror of Strasbourg". This film noir (in black and white, of course) has strangulations that recall "The Clutching Hand" (from a Saturday series called "Movies for Kids") and, of course, the guillotine. At The End of the Reign of Terror, Napoleon Bonaparte (Shepperd Strucdwick) says, "I am neither a Frenchman nor a politician; I am only a soldier." This little gem ends with "La Marseillaise" Berlioz style, recalling Casablanca.

Related reviews:. Splendor in the Grass, Bedford Incident, other WWII/Cold War films  Keane  Deliver Us from Evil   Spy Game


Return to movies (reviews)

Return to home page


Email me at