Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Robert De Niro
Starring: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, Michael Gambon
(R, 160 min.)
"And here face downward in the sun / To feel how swift how secretly / The shadow of the night comes on." Archibald MacLeish
The gray everyday grind of the CIA’s early years are as far away from the sexy glamour of James Bond as fact from fiction. And not everyone is going to enjoy this glimpse at a shadowy world of suspicion that slowly erodes the soul.
That is not to say that director Robert De Niro doesn’t do his best to dress it up with a well known cast of box office draws, including Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, but if you’re expecting the nonstop action of The Bourne Identity or the tongue in cheek banter of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, you will be disappointed. And the trademark smiles that light up the screen disappear about the time Damon’s Edward Wilson takes his first overseas assignment one week into their marriage.
The narrative takes us from 1939 until 1961, from that naïve moment when a great ocean seemed to keep the world’s problems from our shores, and into the Cold War when the great Soviet influence hovered over Cuba, just ninety miles away. Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a lover of poetry and a serious student, when he’s not donning female attire to play Sweet Little Buttercup in the Yale production of H.M.S. Pinafore, has just the right credentials to be recruited for intelligence work, and he is soon recruited to world for the OSS, the precursor of the CIA.
Early on we get a good glimpse of Edward’s idealism as well as an underlying streak of ruthlessness. When asked by FBI to report on the Nazi sympathies of his poetry professor, he is loath to do so until he discovers that his professor has passed off another’s poetry as his own. That unpardonable betrayal ends all his squeamishness.
His sense of duty also demands sacrifice. A onetime capricious interlude with the somewhat predatory sister of a college friend ends in a marriage he dutifully accepts even though his heart really belongs to Laura (Tammy Banchard), a deaf girl he loves. Again the call of duty, and Wilson goes overseas to exorcize Nazis and swap detained scientists with the Soviet Union instead of staying home to attend the birth of his son and the first six years of his life. Except for her initial coquettish turn, Clover (Angelina Jolie) soon becomes the neglected wife and loses her sizzle as quickly as the champagne she sips the fatal night of their meeting. It is attribute to Jolie’s acting that she pulls off this cast against type part, filling out her gauzy hostess gowns with a mannequin’s lifelessness, the once flashing eyes now flat dark pools.
Perhaps we could understand that sense of duty a bit more if we ever saw its fruits. Maybe a few bad guys put out of business, a few nefarious plots foiled, or at least a sense of mission or urgency. But screenwriter Phillip Roth seems determined in his nihilistic dissection of the spy business, and after a while – the film is almost three hours long - it isn’t that compelling to watch. It is filled in with some voyeuristic reconstructions of the secret Skull and Bones rituals, as well as their more social gatherings at Deer Island, where the attention to texture and detail is meticulous.
And we have plot and counterplots, unexpected betrayals, and an assortment of violent deaths, but they never coalesce into a credible storyline. Perhaps the trouble is compounded by the narrative structure, which starts with the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and piggybacks to 1939 to fill in crucial details. Keeping that 1961 date stable, we bounce back and forth from it to the fore story, the juxtapositioning of young and middle aged Edward not helped by fact that he looks the same age throughout.
In the end, I guess you’ve got to hand it to De Niro and Roth. Who else would have the creative insight to construct a thriller without any real thrills, to pen a lead who prefers bureaucratic spywonkery to Angelina Jolie, or to leave enough loose ends and unresolved issues to tie up real CIA operatives for at least a decade?
The Good Shepherd has many lush banquets, long tables decked out with fine crystal and china, but somehow the actual food doesn’t register. Maybe it’s because for these bluebloods the dinners are more about the occasion, the ritual social gathering, the elaborate gowns and the tailored tuxedos. Eating is a mere technicality.
Instead I am selecting a recipe from a country where each meal would be savored - Cuba, that little island that has long plagued us. And it plagues Edward Wilson and the entire CIA throughout this film centered on the spectacular Failure at the infamous Bay of Pigs.
But put those unhappy memories behind and enjoy every bit of this succulent Lechon Asado.
Cuban Roast Pig
- One 10-15 pound suckling pig (1 Lb per person) prepared by the butcher for roasting
- 8-10 cloves garlic, or to taste
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 3-4 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 cups sour (Seville) orange juice or 1 cup sweet orange juice mixed with 1/2 cup each fresh lime juice and lemon juice
- 2 bay leaves, crumbled
- Olive oil for basting
- 1 apple, orange, lemon or lime for garnish
This recipe uses a whole pig. Make sure you have a large enough pan with generous sides, so the fat will not splatter. Be sure and check if this will fit in your oven and in your refrigerator for overnight marinating.
- One day before cooking, wash the pig inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. In a mortar, combine the garlic, oregano and salt, and mash to a paste. Place the pig in a large pan, rub it inside and out with the garlic paste, season it liberally with salt and pepper and pour the soured juices over it. Sprinkle with the crumbled bay leaves. Cover the pig with aluminum foil and refrigerate 24 hours.
- Three to 5 hours before serving, preheat the oven to 375 F degrees, remove the pig from the marinade and reserve the marinade. Place the pig in a shallow aluminum foil-lined roasting pan, insert a wad of foil in the mouth to keep it open, cover the ears with foil and brush the skin with oil. Insert a meat thermometer in the hind leg, making sure it does not touch bone.
- Roast the pig 1 hour, lower the oven to 350F degrees and bake 2-5 hours more (depending upon the size of the pig), basting frequently with oil, juices, and reserved marinade. Remove the foil from the ears halfway through the baking time.
- When the pig is done to an internal temperature of 185F-190F degrees, the skin is a cordovan brown, and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a fork, transfer to a large platter and allow to rest 15-20 minutes before carving. (The meat will be very well done and practically falling from the bones). Remove the foil from the mouth and replace it with your choice of fruit.
Makes 10-12 servings.
Recipe Source: epicurean.com