Thursday, January 04, 2007

Little Shepherds

Here are Matt Damon and John Tuturro, good Company men who just blew the Bay of Pigs operation, taken from "The Good Shepherd." Unfortunately, the film itself was a snooze-fest about the empty WASPs who ran an empty US foreign policy. I stayed awake so as not to offend my pal Rebecca who took me to it, and entertained myself by wondering if the film was cleverly thematizing boring emptiness or just being boring and empty without meaning to. Sadly, there were no other signs of cleverness in the film, just ghosts of two decent ideas. One was about the effects of this post-war emptiness at the top of US society -that the deadliness of the US in the Cold War came less from necessary responses to real threats than from our own leaders' emotional exhaustion and intellectual emptiness (the USSR military is described as a sham by one would-be defector our hero Matt Damon has been busy torturing). This idea is like an object in one of the photos the techie spooks analyze that you can infer but never actually see. The second ghost of an idea came from my pal Rebecca, who recalled the film's only good line. Italian mobster Joe Pesci names a few things different US ethnic groups have and then asks the typically silent and inert Damon, "what do you people have"? "We have the United States of America," Damon replies. "The rest of you are just visiting." Rebecca said that this could have been a movie about the CIA as an agent of white supremacy. True, but it was just ghost #2.

Some IMDb reviewers have complained about Jolie's performance, among others. I don't think any of the performances are bad as such - Jolie's is technically quite good - but there IS something wrong with the characters and their interactions. The film plays like a group vanity project in which De Niro and crew put on an extra-long after-dinner skit for their wealthy liberal friends. They know things have gone bad in America, they don't like American foreign policy and all the dirty tricks and killing. But they don't know what went wrong, or why, or what to do about it. They especially don't think that they benefit from any of this killing - that the CIA has been quite handy at giving the U.S., a declining manufacturing and increasingly corrupt power, unfair advantages in the world, advantages that in turn lead to Hollywood and Wall Street's ridiculous wealth. Could part of America's problem be exactly this kind of mental passivity and actual indifference to democracy among the most privileged members of the middle class? Gosh! It raises a question I sometimes blog about on these very pages - did we long ago trade in democracy and camaraderie with the rest of the world for the sake of unearned, coerced global privileges? Just like Damon's character, the movie isn't self-aware enough to ask any questions like this, and the result is boredeom - theirs and ours - all the big implications and feelings gone missing.

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