Saturday, April 14, 2007

Life's a Riot with Spy vs. Spy

Do you harbor paranoid fantasies about everyone around you? Do you have an unnatural love of secrecy? Do you mentally calculate every possibility, no matter how absurd? Do you nurture an internal, unshakable belief in something which has no basis in reality? Do you obsess about controlling your surroundings? Are you withdrawn to the point of being a sociopath?

If you're like me, you probably try to hide these character flaws. But in the world of Cold War espionage as portrayed in The Good Shepard, these are survival skills. I often had secret agent fantasies as a boy, fueled by popular culture and film. And the idea still has a certain dangerous, edgy appeal. But Matt Damon's stoic, somber demeanor in the film reminds me too much of what I have been like during periods of my life. The traits that make a person a successful spy seem to be woefully at odds with the traits that make a person happy and fulfilled. I suppose there are plenty of creepy "spy personalities" lurking in the world today. It's probably a good thing that I'm not one of them. :-)

The problem with the film wasn't that it was too glamorous, nor too depressing, it was that it was not enough of either. Having been raised on the Iran-Contra hearings, then later exploring the whole history of the CIA, I know that the American intelligence community has had ridiculous highs and abysmal lows. The film is too earnest: one critic said it was "the Godfather of Spy Movies." Apt enough, I suppose. After all, it was directed by Robert DeNiro and executive produced by Francis Coppola. Ultimately, though, it was too fictionalized and procedural to be a character study, too melodramatic to be a history, and too polished and clean to be anything other than a Hollywood kiss-and-tell. Check out this video instead.


ladieslovetk said...

Hey! I watched this yesterday! I was all set to not like it, since I'm somewhat skeptical of Matt Damon, but I thought he was pretty good! Also Angelina Jolie was very good! I'm not too interested in espionage, so I didn't get engaged in that part of it. I was more interested in the technical execution, like the framing, editing, soundtrack and whatnot. The only other Robert DeNiro movie I've seen was A Bronx Tale, which I like but the soundtrack was way too loud. Holy crap was this movie an improvement in direction over A Bronx Tale.

Knight of Nothing said...

I think Matt Damon is a pretty good actor, in spite of all the dreck he's been in. Did you catch the Departed? He was great in that. Very good in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ocean's Eleven, Stuck on You, and Syriana as well. Even Borne Identity was kinda fun.

Angelina Jolie is a terrific actress; I think the movies she's in don't often use her as much or as well as they might. She definitely added some emotional impact to this one.

I never saw A Bronx Tale. Do you go so far as to recommend it? Maybe I'll look into it.

I actually liked this movie more than I thought I would too. It got me thinking about all the spy history I delved into in my late teens and early twenties. I was kind of obsessed with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and National Security State issues.