Saturday, December 23, 2006

Damonic possession

gettin' ready to head home to KC for the "holidays," whichever those might be. as usual, most of my extensive packing time has been given to choosing what CDs to bring along. despite my former reflections on taking/giving recommendations, i still feel the need to bombard my dear KC friends with music everytime i descend. Cheer-Accident, Steely Dan, All, these and others are the most important recent discoveries and the ones i'm stowing.

if your family wants to go to the movies, go see "The Good Shepherd." it'll give you all that sprawling Hollywood drama you're looking for and it takes up a lot of time that you'd otherwise have to spend making small talk with your relatives. as you prolly know, it's a fictionalized retelling of the birth of the C.I.A. starring Matt Damon and directed by Robert De Niro.

it's a really Hollywood-ish movie, covering a whole bunch of the bases you'd expect for a government thriller and for a period drama, and kind of pat in places, but really meaty at the same time. basically it's got this time structure that flip-flops between the "present" (1961, in the immediate aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion) and the past, where we see the personal history of Damon's character, C.I.A. main dude Edward Wilson.

at bottom, it's a classic deep cover story, about how being involved in shady government dealings makes you a stranger to yourself, your family, your peers and your friends. there's all kinds of awesome actors on board and like "The Departed," the flick often feels like a pangenerational parade of Hollywood's awesomest and most cynically knowing, from William Hurt and Alec Baldwin to Damon and Billy Crudup to John Turturro and even De Niro himself.

honestly a lot of the spy stuff, which begins in WWII and goes from there, confused the shit out of me. but the drama still holds up even if the history is throwing you for a loop. there's tons of memorable scenes, such as Damon's surreal Skull and Bones initiation--one of the film's major notions is that S&B is basically the farm team for the insidery-est wings of the U.S. government; it's not a particularly radical idea, but it plays out really convincingly in the film--plus a superbrutal, out-of-nowhere interrogation scene, and more ultrasmug uber-WASP good-old-boy back-slapping than you'd ever want (i devour that shit like hotcakes, myself, so i was in heaven).

there's also some really intense romantic stuff, with Damon throwing over this deaf girl he dates at Yale for Angelina Jolie, playing this "hottie" (though i think her lips are sort of grotesquely large at this point), who he sleeps with and then makes his shotgun bride. he goes off to Europe and they get super-estranged, making for some really caustic domestic spats near the end.

there's a million subplots, the most wrenching one involving Damon's son, who he totally ignores for years on end. but the kid grows up wanting to be just like dad, "Cats in the Cradle"-style, and Damon has that to deal with, on top of the agency's increasingly sordid dealings and his inability to trust any of his associates/informants/etc.

as my friends Joe and James pointed out, the movie feels slightly wooden at times, a little too tidy and biopicky, with every little Rosebud hint that's dropped getting nicely resolved. but it's like comfort food in that way, just sort of an airtight narrative. even though at the same time, it's really confusing in that international intrigue sort of way. but for such a sprawling film, it never feels like a mess, just a little bit harried, like De Niro needs to cram all these actors and dramatic signposts and historical events and themes and stuff in, and make sure they all come back around to where they need to get to.

Matt Damon is weirdly lifeless, but that's sort of who his character is. he was kind of wooden in "The Departed" too, but overall, i'm pretty happy that he's sort of become the artsy mainstreamers' favorite leading man. i've been a big fan ever since the labored Bahston bit began with "Good Will Hunting"--i just love that Damon grin, and though there ain't much smiling in this movie (nothing like that incredible date scene in "The Departed" when he's making fun of the schmancy dessert), he still works as the movie's center of gravity.

also, Alec Baldwin comes in and does one of his by-now-obligatory film-stealing bit parts, just like in "The Departed." in a lot of ways this movie is like a more buttoned-down, overserious version of that movie. comparing them, you see how Scorsese goes for glitz and sleaze, while De Niro is more into the tight-lipped-solitude thing. both movies deal intensely with corruption, and both are very tragic. but "The Departed" is obviously a much more fun movie, with Scorsese just letting the actors rip. De Niro fits them all into their little slots, but their awesomeness still shines through. anyway, i was thoroughly entertained, not to mention narratively baffled, by both. you gotta see them, really.

[Joe described "The Good Sheperd" as "The Godfather" meets "Quiz Show" and i thought that needed to be mentioned here, b/c it's absolutely dead on and gets at the diverse appeal of this film. the latter flick might be my favorite movie ever, with all its heavy good-old-boy schmoozing and that intense as hell disillusionment-of-America period vibe. that's an awesome bet for holiday rental if you're looking for subtle-as-shit ideological heartbreak, Hollywood sprawl and an insanely detailed '50s New England vibe, which i pretty much always am.]

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