MATT DAMON — ANGELINA JOLIE — ROBERT DE NIRO — THE GOOD SHEPHERD — 2006
NEW REVIEW in 2017
It was a nostalgic film in 2006 when the wars started by George W. Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq were turning stale and sinking in the quagmire of all colonial and imperialistic wars. It was of course a comment on these wars like when Edward Wilson says “We are trying to make wars small.” That is sure right if we can say so without sounding sarcastic, even at the time. They were in the process of getting their fingers into Vietnam after the defeat of the Bay of Pigs and Cuba. Of course far worse was to come, precisely Afghanistan and Iraq. They financed Al Qaeda in Afghanistan against the Soviet who pulled out rather fast. And now the USA have to face them and some dissidents or alternative factions in the fields George W. Bush decided all by himself and like a big boy to invade.
That was a time when intelligence was important against Hitler but they met with Soviet spies in Germany and they did not necessarily have the upper hand. In fact, they were infiltrated very early after the war and in spite of what the film implies, that was not the cause of their lack of success and their future failures. They failed because the objective was wrong: they wanted to manipulated governments and states in other countries, hence their objective was imperialistic and that went against the grain of history that was witnessing the fall of all big colonial empires and the withering of any kind of imperialistic ambitions. They also went against the grain of the new phase of our human development that was and still is based on economic growth and welfare state policies.
But the film shows far too well that the life of such spies is not a human life. Far from home, far from wives and children, entangled in all kinds of affairs and constantly the target of rival spying factions that try to get some information and leverage over you by getting something about you that should not become public (blackmail) or by menacing your spouses or your children.
The film is well performed by seasoned actors though the shifting in time is at times difficult to follow in spite of the places and dates given now and then, though not all the time (where is the scene in Africa: Ivory Coast or Congo Kinshasa?). The most difficult problem was simply Matt Damon who was running in the film from the late 30s to the early 60s and he really was the same man not looking in anyway younger when necessary and older when needed. It is surprising because nowadays the make-up department of any studio can do a better job.
At times here and there we have some extremely arrogant and irritating remarks that are supposed to be pieces of humor like the following:
Richard Hayes: I remember a senator once asked me. When we talk about “CIA” why we never use the word “the” in front of it. And I asked him, do you put the word “the” in front of “God”?
That’s the arrogance of George W. Bush who was pushed aside by Obama for eight years in 2008 who in his turn tried to have diplomacy prevail, though he was obsessive and obsessional about cyber security and cyber intelligence and had everyone in the world eavesdropped upon by the CIA. Note I must be old fashioned and from outside the institution because I do say THE CIA, but also THE FBI and a few others.
The film will tell you how foolish of Trump if he were to start another front somewhere in the world. But there is no one more foolish than, a populist politician or a circus clown. The difference is that when the populist politician falls on his face it is in the midst of maximum destruction and mass killings, whereas a clown falls on his face to make children laugh. Sooner or later Trump will be the monster in the closet that will come out “if you do not go to sleep immediately.” How many lateral, bilateral and collateral victims will you count in six months? Already several thousands in just a few weeks.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
OLD REVIEW, MANY YEARS AGO
This is an essential film to understand where the world stands and where it is going in the present period. De Niro signs here a severe and ruthless denunciation of the methods of the US government in the world since they started the CIA at the end of the 30s. A young man, the son of a dead-by-suicide officer of some sort, is recruited by the FBI to find out the identities of the members of a fascist group that is in fact in the hand of an American agent unknown of the FBI. He will then become an essential agent in London during the war and in Berlin after the world, covered as a commercial agent, and it is trade and nothing else, to exchange some fascist scientists who are not too important for the Jewish scientists the Soviets are getting rid of.
This will lead the main character who is the head of the office in Berlin to recruit a KGB agent into his service. What is very strange is that the CIA does not find out this agent is being recruited under the name of another KGB agent (the CIA was un-informed on the subject which means they did not cover the whole world and had weak points, just like the Soviet should not have used the name of another KGB agent) and it is done with the complicity of an English agent. This man will become the mole in the CIA when Cuba becomes communist and when the US tries to organize the re-conquest in the Bay of Pigs.
The failure is so enormous that they decide that there must have been a mole. And they start looking for it. The Soviet then start playing cat and mouse with the main character and manage to compromise his son in the business by making him fall in love with a woman in Africa, or at least have a sudden desire for the woman that turns into love but this woman is one of their agents. That titillates the man and he really digs out what he can dig out and finds out the real mole by some simple action: to check a book that was offered to that mole by some English agent when he was finally recruited by the CIA.
That book should have been checked and was not. Negligence and non-professionalism. And this ex-KGB agent is never the object of the slightest doubt even when another KGB agent arrives and pretends he is the man carrying the name the ex-KGB agent has been recruited under. It is the son who will pay, and pay dearly, for the amateurish caper, indirectly for sure since the woman will be eliminated. So much for love among spies. But what is left after this action is finished, a tremendous action with numerous intertwined though clearly identified flashbacks over the whole period from the 1920s to the mid 1960s?
First that this CIA was born in super-patriotic and super-nationalist secret groups in the US, groups that ignore democracy and in a way human dignity, since the new members have to go through a fight in the nude, in mud and with the older members eventually pissing on them. These circles and groups are dangerous. What’s more they are so closed up onto themselves that they lose somewhere the necessary objectivity and a negligence becomes possible and a double agent can infiltrate the whole system. The second lesson is that this CIA is supposed to reshape the world in conformity with what the US wants.
This is also very dangerous, and there the film is totally idealistic: the CIA can do what they want they can only slow down change in the world, not reverse it, Latin America being the best case ever. It has never been so nearly unanimously on the left, dark and deep pink if not completely red, and only as a reaction to the US’s use of the CIA to manipulate people. These agents are also extremely inhuman. They have to forget all links with family, friends, relatives, or any acquaintances.
They must be ready to betray all these in the name of their mission and purity and kill every time it is necessary. They are kept under constant surveillance either by the other side or by people on the US side that no one knows. The film finally gives you one example of the El Ghraib torturing methods and that really makes you shudder and shiver. And the tragic end will be all the more pathetic when we know the victim was right and telling the truth. A film you must see absolutely.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU