Tuesday, December 26, 2006
can't you hear my lambs are calling:
Saw The Good Shepherd with Matt and Tom last night. They didn't really like it much; I did. DeNiro -- who for some reason named the Wild Bill character Sullivan instead of Donovan -- basically made Spookfellas. I see Kurt Loder contended that the film doesn't have a story so much as it presents a "corporate biography." That's not really right. The James Jesus Angleton character, Edward Wilson, takes us through the development of This Thing Of Ours and through his descent, we see what the dark side does to us as a country -- we become shortsighted, parochial, paranoid, craven, brutal. It's not unlike how Henry Hill took us through Goodfellas.
This is all underscored by a brief but hilarious scene with Joe Pesci in which Pesci, a vulgar, family-oriented mafioso, expresses fear and impotent hatred of Matt Damon's Wilson.

One quick thing about counterintelligence master James Jesus Angleton. (One of his handles was "the Good Shepherd.") If we're to view the Wilson character as Angleton, DeNiro presents a remarkably subtle and often sympathetic portrayal of Angleton. Wilson is presented as, at worst, moderately paranoid. Angleton believed Henry Kissinger was a Soviet agent. Wilson dips his toe into domestic spying. Angleton was the architect of a massive spying campaign targeting elements within the antiwar movement, which is what led to his downfall. In short, if Wilson really is Angleton, he starts off and ends up with way too much of a soul. Indeed, Angleton's excesses make Michael Ledeen's enthusiasm for the man appear all the more... eccentric, I believe, is the nice word.
--Spencer Ackerman
On the Angleton connection: It's worth noting that The Good Shepherd only tells the story up to the early Sixties. The standard accounts of JJA's career suggest that he didn't didn't really *lose it* until somewhat later on. Possibly the final scene, in which he's introduced to his vastly larger office -- with the implication of new power along with an array of new safe-cabinets -- in the still under-construction Langley complex pointed toward further corruption. My impression was that, unlike Goodfellas, this film was a kind of preamble to downfall, rather than a full three-act treatment.
Blogger TheWaldganger | 1:29 PM

Hmm. Good point, but it begs the question of why DeNiro thinks that story is worth telling. He can't expect his audience to know that Wilson/Angleton is destined to abuse his power in spectacular fashion. If this were a film about, say, Young Pinochet or Young Saddam -- not that I'm comparing, I'm just saying -- then, sure, we'd get it, but Angleton is too obscure a historical figure.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 4:05 PM