Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Good Shepherd

I went out yesterday and watched the movie The Good Shepherd and bumped into an acquaintance of mine from work near the restroom while she was waiting for her boyfriend who had to answer the call of nature.

I asked her about the movie and she was candid enough to say that she did not understand it at all. She maybe telling the truth for Robert De Niro’s movie about the birth of America’s foremost spy agency, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is not your typical spy movie.

It is a movie that left a lot of questions and delves on a lot of issues in passing that will left the casual viewer with no or limited knowledge about the history of the CIA and the circumstances around its formation to scratch their heads as they try figure out heads and tails of every scene.

To the uninitiated, the CIA was born out of the old Office of Strategic Services (OSS) of World War II then headed by the legendary Colonel Wild Bill Donovan who proposed to then US President Harry S. Truman to create an intelligence agency that will deal both in overt and covert operations for the United States which led to its establishment in January 1946.

Thus, the agency that would be responsible for fighting the United States government’s dirty war was born.

During its history the CIA was responsible directly or indirectly in maintaining that US Allies in the fight against communism would be supported militarily and financially by the United States where the dictum “I don’t care if he is a son of a bitch as long as he is our son of a bitch” was the norm when questions about the morality and soundness of supporting a particular dictator to stay in power as well as the toppling of governments that are against or perceived to be against the US and too- friendly with the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries like East Germany, Cuba and Bulgaria.

The movie has delved into the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion where Cuban exiles in Miami where trained and armed by the Firm but were abandoned to Fidel Castro’s forces when the plan proved unsuccessful and too hot to handle. They also mentioned in passing the unseen hand of the Office in toppling the new government of Chilean President Salvador Allende and installing their protégé Antonio Pinochet in office through military coup de etat where he would rule that South American nation with an iron hand for decades.

Air America, Iran- Contra, Low Intensity Conflict were just some of the things that the sinister minds of the people in Langley in Fairfax County, Virginia have concocted in its dirty war against the Evil Empire.

Even the agency’s use of the mob was shown when Wilson (Matt Damon) paid the Boss (Joe Pesci) a visit where he issued veiled threats that only reinforced the fact that they would leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with perceived enemies of the state.

The central theme of the movie was focused through the eyes and life of one man, the character Edward Wilson which was likely but loosely based on the life of James Jesus Angleton, the head of Counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency from 1954 to 1974 who was played by Matt Damon as a stiff, cold, and calculating operative whose eyes were opened through the evil that men do and whose life was suck into the cloak and dagger world of espionage that characterize the Cold War; where revenge and betrayal were the name of the game; where there are no permanent friends but only permanent interests; where duplicity is a common trait; where family comes only second to his work and country; where the interest of the United Sates is paramount; where disinformation when handled correctly is power.

Young and promising Ivy League student Wilson was recruited at Yale by the secret society Skull and Bones where he was inducted into their world of secrecy whose members were a veritable who’s who in the elite circle of the government.

Bonesmen then and now are said to be so powerful that they have elected presidents, appointed supreme court justices, and count prominent business leaders among its members. Even George W. Bush, the current president, is said to be a member of this so-called fraternity in Yale.

Fast forward to his stint with the OSS and his years of training with the British spy agency where he learned and honed his craft under the watchful eyes of his old “professor” in poetry in Yale that he “betrayed” years earlier for being suspected as a German spy and Nazi recruiter in the US. He was compelled by an FBI agent (Alec Baldwin) to spy for him as a patriotic American citizen. The death of his erstwhile mentor at the hands of his colleagues was an eye opener for him that will guide his every move as he went further with his career in the clandestine world of espionage.

Many viewers and critics alike have found the movie wanting in action and fast-paced story-telling as would have been expected in a movie that deals specifically with the CIA. But the movie is not your typical slam- bang spy thriller but rather a deep and long dissection of the history the US foremost intelligence agency and the role of a certain kind of men in its birth, infancy and to what is now the largest and most sophisticated intelligence organization in the world.

In the end, you can only sympathize with these men and commiserate with their families who sacrificed everything so that America can sleep in peace knowing that there are a group of men out there watching and protecting her back.

The all star ensemble for this espionage- drama; from Matt Damon to William Hurt to Tammy Blachard to John Turturro to Alec Baldwin to Angelina Jolie were like every piece that Robert de Niro has put into place to complete the desired picture and they did deliver.

And on the lighter side, give me Angelina Jolie anytime, with her classic beauty on the screen and I will not complain enduring 160 minutes of sitting in a dark, musty theater. Ha-ha.

Again, if you're not familiar with History especially about the Cold War and other dark, cold spy stuffs, you may find this film tedious and boring.

You better watch Happy Feet, instead.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Master Scorsese's The Departed

Martin Scorsese is a master filmmaker and one of my favorite directors of all time; his films which are veritable masterpieces showed the enormous talent of the man behind the camera.

However, it is really funny and a shame that for whatever reasons he has been snubbed numerous times by the Academy Awards.

If there is a film director out there worthy of the golden statue it is Signore Scorsese--

In my list of movies - Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Aviator and now, The Departed in no particular order will always be in the top echelons of movies borne out of Hollywood that could stand on its own merits and worthy story-telling.

The Departed which was based on the Hong Kong‘s 2002 movie, Infernal Affairs once again showed his unequaled touch especially when the subject is about the Mafia and Organized Crime. He has mastered the genre like no other and knows every thing there is like the palm of his hands.

With a powerful all star cast, he can do no wrong here--

Jack Nicholson as the Boston Irish Mob Boss Frank Costello is a joy to watch and proves that he can still dish out his trademark “evil self” without much effort unlike most of the younger actors of today, his distracting eyebrows notwithstanding. Hahaha!

Leonardo Di Caprio as the rookie undercover cop Billy Costigan tasks to penetrate the mob in South Boston has really grown up on this film and Scorsese has done wonders for him and he‘s one actor who’s so at home with the master having been under his tutelage in the past in such notable films like The Aviator and Gangs of New York. He really has evolved into one of the finest young actors of today and he will be a force to reckon with in the film industry for years to come if he will just play his cards right.

Matt Damon is his usual exceptional cool but explosive self as the morally- torn Colin Sullivan, the mob boss’ protégé since his childhood and groomed to be his eyes and ears in the police force.

Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg these two veteran actors played the two no- nonsense dedicated cops Queenan and Dignam whose main job and obsession is to eliminate the Irish Mob in Boston’s crime landscape and have done what they have been paid to do as the driven handlers of Billy Costigan in his undercover work against Costello.

Alec Baldwin’s short but meaty performance as the overeager agent, Special Investigations Unit Captain Ellerby is worth mentioning here and he has shown maturity as an actor through the years by accepting some meaty but worthy non- lead roles in his career.

Scorsese has woven an action- packed 150- minutes of a thriller here. I must admit that The Departed is the first movie that I have watched in the movie house this year that had my undivided attention right from the beginning up until the end and I tell you it‘s already a tribute to the Director for I usually fall asleep in the movie house in the middle of the majority of movies (boy, they are many) that I have seen this year prompting a friend to quip that the movie house is just a place for me to steal a wink or two, a hideaway from the hassles of my job.

The film had me on the edge of my seat and glued my eyes on the screen as one scene after scene unraveled until it reached its peak in the end. It is one "bloody" but superb filmmaking that catches your attention which younger directors of today should try to emulate and follow.

But even the master could sometimes overlooked something like the scene in the movie house where Costigan (Di Caprio) was trailing Costello(Nicholson) in his rendezvous with Sullivan (Damon) where he is shown holding his cell phone in silent mode "texting" his handlers about the so-called meeting between the mole and the puppeteer.

Afterwards when Sullivan exited the movie theater and Costigan tried to tail him into the narrow side streets, his cell phone suddenly rang that caught Sullivan’s attention and prompting Costigan to scamper into an unscheduled detour to hide thus, letting his prey escape in the process. Such a glaring boo-boo from a well-trained undercover operative in the cutthroat world of the Mafia could only mean one thing in real life--Death.

There is no letdown here though, for all in all, The Departed is still the best film of 2006 in my book owing to the actor’s captivating performances under the baton of the master storyteller if only the people at the Academy Awards should finally shun their undeserved and unfounded bias to one of the best filmmakers of all time and hand him the coveted Best Director Oscars come awards night which in my opinion is a well- deserved one and is long overdue.

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