I first wrote about Robert De Niro‘s The Good Shepherd (Universal, 12.22) last August, at which time a three-hour version had been research-screened and, I was told, deemed too long. That was three months ago, and now comes word that the Eric Roth-scripted CIA drama isn’t going to screen for press or awards groups until 12.4. Nothing wrong with that — there’s a certain distinction in being the last major film to be shown.
But if you were running things and wanted to get the maximum bang out of a film like this, which obviously betokens quality-level viewing of one kind or another, would you have said to De Niro and his producer Jane Rosenthal last August to please have Shepherd done and screenable by 12.4? Of course not. You’d want to start screening it sometime in early to mid November (at the latest), like all the other distributors are doing with year-end films. This tells you De Niro has been having trouble getting it right. And that in itself is a warning flag.
The upside is that it’s said to be a killer cinematic assemblage (knockout visuals, great editing…maybe that’s what all the down-to-the-wire futzing has been about?) and that it’s definitely going to be a multi-layered, adult-level thing — more nutritious elements than 90% or even 95% of the other films out there, so let’s just hold our water and wait.
Shepherd is a story of a real-life CIA counter-espionage ace (Matt Damon), largely modelled on James Jesus Angleton, who gradually succumbs to obsessiveness and paranoia as he is swallowed more and more by his work. It’s said to be dense and labrynthian and exacting, but the main narrative is about Damon gradually “paying a price” for being ultra-obsessive about counter-sleuthing.
I wrote a few days ago that it seems to be a cautionary tale about workaholicism. I related to that because I’m that guy — consumed by work to the exclusion of almost everything presumed to constitute “a life.” No cat, no dog, no kids, no wife, no meatballs in the kitchen, no hedges to trim…nothing but the warm-bath vortex of the job.