by Hannah Roveto
The other evening, my husband and I found ourselves home without children and did what any rational couple would do: ran out for Chinese take-out and an R-rated movie. We rented The Good Shepherd, with a cast that merely begins with the likes of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro and William Hurt. Directed by De Niro. A spy movie that follows the creation of the CIA and turns on the Bay of Pigs. Two thumbs up from its reviewers. We settled in with our soups.
A full 167 minutes later, we stared at each other. "Wow, that was long." "I was confused; did this happen first or later?" "Did he do that or did someone else?"
After rehashing the movie another several minutes, we decided to check any deleted scenes, thinking they might provide missing answers. What was fascinating was that the deleted scenes represented an entire thread cut from throughout the movie. In the official version, a particular character is killed off; yet there he was, again and again. His scenes still didn't answer our questions about the movie, but in watching them, I knew what was wrong with the film. It was, yes, the threads.
There weren't necessarily too many, we decided after further discussion, and De Niro was right to cut that particular one. The problem came in how the remaining threads were woven together. Whether it was the writing or editing (Everyone needs a good editor!), I don't know. Time was jumbled and while dates were provided at the start of scenes, the viewer might not realize how critically important they were until it was too late. Threads became snippets, difficult if not impossible to follow smoothly from start to finish.
Being thread-obsessed myself, I actually plan to rent it again, in part to better understand the story, mostly to track each thread from start to finish. I want to see how De Niro and the editors thought it through, to see whether it could have been done differently. Sometimes we learn more when we can see what's missing than when it is done perfectly.
Thread obsession? It's what delivers the richness of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil. And so on. You know it when you see it, the palpable texture that comes from beautifully crafted threads.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
by Hannah Roveto