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De Niro brings CIA saga to Berlin festival

By Geir Moulson

Associated Press

BERLIN — Robert De Niro said his fascination with the Cold War led him to direct the CIA saga "The Good Shepherd," which screened Saturday at the annual Berlin film festival.

The film — shut out of all the top Oscar nominations — was among 22 movies competing for the top Golden Bear award in Berlin. "Shepherd" traces the origins of the CIA through the eyes of a fictionalized agent, played by Matt Damon.

De Niro, who made his directorial debut 13 years ago with "A Bronx Tale," said he was attracted to "Shepherd" by the "sweeping scope" of the script by Eric Roth and a fascination with the period itself.

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"I’m fascinated by the Cold War. I’m a child of the Cold War," he told reporters, recalling visiting the divided Berlin as a child. "That whole period and the intelligence world — all that stuff is fascinating."

He his goal was to avoid being judgmental.

"I didn’t want to criticize," he said. "I put the things down in as straightforward, direct, honest a way as I could."

The movie focuses on the personal toll on Damon’s character, Edward Wilson, who neglects his wife, played by Angelina Jolie, and son as he resolutely pursues his espionage career.

De Niro, 63, said he saw parallels between the CIA tale and the Mafia world of many of the films that made him famous.

"There’s a definite similarity to both secretive organizations," he said, though he added, "Edward Wilson’s family is more dysfunctional than the Italian families that I can remember."

De Niro said he took only a supporting role in "Shepherd" — an Army official who recruits young agents — because "I’m not crazy about directing myself."

Damon praised De Niro’s attention to detail as a director.

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"He micromanages all those little details and he doesn’t stop until every one of those details is in the right place," he said.

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