Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
‘The Good Shepherd,’ ‘The Pursuit of Happyness,’ a new novel from Alice McDermott

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 18, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

Matt Damon as Edward Wilson, a founder of the CIA, is in almost every scene of Robert De Niro ‘s new epic The Good Shepherd. He plays a man who grows to trust no one and is in a sense always looking over his shoulder. His emotions are usually below the surface. In an out-of-control world, from pre-World War II until the Cuban Missile Crisis and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, we watch a man struggling to always be in control.

The Good Shepherd goes back and forth in time, always clearly telling us what period we are in. But the movement from one time to another occasionally is confusing. There are poignant scenes in the 1920s when Edward Wilson is outside the door of the room in which his father commits suicide. Edward is recruited at Yale to begin looking for information on a professor some believe is a Nazi spy. The professor, Dr. Fredericks (played wonderfully by the British actor Michael Gambon), later turns up again in a new and surprising role.

Edward marries Clover (Angelina Jolie), the beautiful daughter of a senator, because he is told he is the father of her unborn child. It is a loveless marriage on his part and he spends the next five or six years in wartime Europe. Many have suggested that it is hard to believe a character played by the beautiful Ms. Jolie would ever stay married to a very distant husband. But Edward does love his son, who fears his father and, to top it off, as a young adult joins the CIA. The son plays a major part in the twists and turns of the plot where it is difficult to know the good guys from the bad.

At over two-and-a-half hours long, The Good Shepherd sometimes seems long. But there are parts of the film that almost seem classic, in the sense of Coppola’s Godfather movies. If you like history or spy novels, you will enjoy The Good Shepherd. In the end, there is a lot to think about, and a lot to figure out in your own mind.

The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) because of some violence, sexuality and language. The United States Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-III – for adults.


The Pursuit of Happyness, the story of a father performing heroic acts to better the life of his son, should be a movie I would enjoy very much. But Will Smith’s new film, in which he plays the real-life character of Chris Gardner, leaves me with the memory of the main character always running, even when he has been hit by a car and should be lying, injured, on the street. The story is inspirational, but we’ve been given the best parts in the previews and on television promotional programs.

Gardner hits bottom in his marriage and his life. He is unable to provide a roof for his son, Christopher, played by Smith’s real-life son, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith. So he eventually takes a six-month position as an intern at the Dean Witter Reynolds stock brokerage firm that pays no money. And there is no guarantee he will get a permanent job. Father and son end up in public bathrooms during the night and crowded shelters provided by the Methodist Church.

The film shows persistent commitment and the love of a father for his son. But in the end, does million-dollar success equal happiness? It seems to me that the older father and grown son may one day wake up and say, “Is that all there is?”

Be sure and note as we have been told by television magazine shows that the tall gentleman in the Hugo Boss suit walking by Chris and his son in the final frame of the film is the real Mr. Chris Gardner.

The Pursuit of Happyness is rated PG-13 by the MPAA because of language. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-II – adults and adolescents.

Book Reviews

In her new book, titled After This, Alice McDermotttakes us to an ordinary Irish-American family growing up on Long Island, New York in the 1950s and ’60s. She does it with lyrical prose that captures the time and place with powerful metaphors, smells you can almost smell, and a love of her characters who have joys and tragedies in their lives that are like our own. Throughout her narrative the changing Catholic Church of the Vatican II era plays a major part.

Michael and Annie Keane meet after World War II, marry and begin to raise four children for the liberating and challenging times of the 1960s. On the way they continue Annie’s sort-of-friendship with a single woman, Pauline, who plays a part in the family through the years even as her health fails.

Each chapter can almost stand alone as a facet of the Keane’s family life as it is told through the eyes of the differing principals. McDermott is particularly strong on the feeling of loneliness and the relation of religious faith in its struggle with modernity.

On loneliness: “(Pauline) hung up the phone and faced the most terrible hours of any week, made worse now by the days she had spent in the busy household: the hours after sunset on a Sunday night, all her own usefulness temporarily extinguished ... In another few years this terror would catch her by the throat, but tonight she would have another Manhattan with Ed Sullivan.”

Religious faith runs like a streaming river through the story of the Keane family. Family members face questions of life and health, the journey to or away from abortion, and the finality of death in a war so far away, yet so close, in Vietnam.

Using the building of a new starkly modern church in the Keanes’ parish, McDermott asks questions of what have we gained and what have we lost in the reforms of Vatican II.

All through After This, McDermott tells her story in a straightforward manner, and then all of sudden drops a line or two of what will happen in the future. It is a form of literary whiplash, but it works. You keep reading, knowing events that she will never directly refer to again.

Many priests and parish music ministers will identify with the kindly Msgr. McShane, who built the new church and is preparing for a wedding of the Keanes’ youngest daughter, Clare, who is pregnant. The monsignor asks the visiting Protestant musician if his ability to play so well is a gift or because of practice. The musician responds that it is both. The priest, looking at the family ready to come up the aisle, knowing the suffering of their lives says, “It’s a gift, then.”

Alice McDermott’s memorable book After This is published in hardcover by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York; 2006, $24.


At a recent Christmas party, friends from Los Angeles told me they had been at a gathering in L.A. with mystery writers, where Michael Connelly, author of the new detective-mystery Echo Park, was present.

I have never read any of the mysteries by Michael Connelly before, but I can tell you Echo Park is an exciting page-turner of the first order. Every now and then a fast plot-driven book is just the ticket for a long winter night.

L.A. Detective Harry Bosch has been working on an off for 13 years on the brutal murder case of Marie Gesto, killed near the horse riding area of Griffith Park. A man has come forward who claims to have killed Marie and several other women. With elaborate safety precautions in place, the man takes the police and legal leaders to the spot in the park where he says he buried Marie years ago. In the midst of a dramatic turn of events, the man escapes and thus begins a long cat-and-mouse journey filled with surprising twists and turns.

Connelly makes L.A. come alive with the street names you remember from movies or from that visit to Southern California years ago. He throws in lots of Chinatown-type corruption in business, government, and the Los Angeles Police Department. In the process you come to care about the characters who are much more than chess pieces on a plot board.

Echo Park by Michael Connelly is published in hardcover by Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2006 at $26.99.

Short Takes

• The new expert on what’s happening in the Catholic Church is Rocco Palmo, the U.S correspondent for The Tablet, a Catholic news magazine based in London. Twenty-something Palmo, whom I am told lives at home with his folks in Philadelphia, now writes a fascinating daily blog at “Whispers in the Loggia.”

Somehow Palmo has sources, from the Vatican down to the typical American diocese. He writes with humor, wisdom and a care for the Catholic Church. The whole operation is first-class with pictures you will find no where else.

• A classic of spiritual reading is now republished and available in large-size paperback. Blessed Columba Marmion’s Christ: The Life of the Soul is available from Zaccheus Press, 4605 Chase Avenue, Bethesda, Md. 20814, or on-line at The new translation from the 1920 French is by Alan Bancroft of Britain. The price of this over 500-page book is $24.95.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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