A complicated movie about the Central Intelligence Agency and its agents, The Good Shepherd isn't your typical spy movie. Though it stars Matt Damon (The Bourne Identity films) and Angelina Jolie (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Lara Cr... more »oft franchise)--actors with considerable experience in the action-espionage genre--The Good Shepherd requires that they play more subdued and (much less interesting) characters here. The movie focuses on the career or Edward Wilson (Damon), a privileged Yale graduate who goes on to help found the CIA. He is a quiet, serious, and guarded man, even in the most intimate moments with his civilian wife (Jolie, in a role that wastes her talent). Set against a backdrop of real-life events such as the Bay of Pigs, The Good Shepherd is meticulous in creating a realistic timeframe. The film gets a jolt of excitement when Robert DeNiro (in his first directing role since 1993's A Bronx Tale) peppers the screen with appearances by Joe Pesci, Alec Baldwin, and William Hurt. But those moments are too infrequent. At 157 minutes long, the film is crammed with many factual details, but the characters are shortchanged when it comes to development. Viewers have to wonder why anyone, much less someone like Wilson who has everything going for him, would devote his life to a thankless job that brings so little happiness to himself and his family. The Good Shepherd is an ambitious but flawed film. The actors do a formidable job with a well-intentioned but meandering script. However, we meet so many characters and learn so little about each that it's difficult to drum up much empathy for any of them. --Jae-Ha Kim« less
"The Good Shepherd is a very very good film that I would be reluctant to recommend to many because despite it having a fictionalized history of the genesis of the CIA as its setting, and its cold look at real spycraft, it is really a very quiet and cerebral character study of the sacrifices one man makes for the sake of his country, and the toll taken not only upon himself but also those around him by the life of duplicity, distrust, compromise and real betrayal that this engenders. I don't know how a 2-1/2 hour movie with so button-downed and taciturn a central character as Matt Damon's Edward Wilson will play in multiplex land, but I give all due credit to Damon for embodying this tightly-wrapped, detached man and Robert DeNiro as director for having the courage to center his film on such a cool and enigmatic protagonist.
Using the 1961 Cuban Bay of Pigs disaster as a framing device, we flashback to 1939 Yale and we see Damon's Edward Wilson as a young Eli soon to be inducted into Skull and Bones where he will join the American WASP elite. I'm glad DeNiro spends a bit of time here as we see Wilson as a brilliant and sensitive young man, seemingly with both heart and humor, with a potential to go in many directions in his life. A telling secret of his life is revealed in his Skull & Bones initiation, and soon, for several reasons, he is singled out for the World War II OSS clandestine service and sent to London, England. But not before impregnating the sister of one of his elite brethern and duly marrying her on the eve of his departure. This marriage will be costly to Edward immediately and eventually to his wife and son as the years progress.
Wartime London intrigue ensues and later postwar Berlin and the beginning of the Cold War. We watch as Edward not only learns his craft, but we see how he begins to shelve his emotions, tighten his grip on himself and don an impenetrable mask of detached stoicism. Edward Wilson is becoming "serious and humorless" and as he shuts-down only glimpses of the younger man appear. Through these scenes we also meet several key characters in the espionage game that will play important parts throughout the story, not the least being the man who will be Edward's opposite number in the KGB, code named Ulysses. The KGB man tells Edward he is code-named "Mother" and that his propensity for silence is noted and respected. Both men realize their opposite will be formidable and that this will be a very serious and deadly game they are about to play.
Edward returns home post-war to a marriage with a stranger, a son he doesn't relate well to and has little time for, and to the deadly games of the Cold War, dueling with the KGB in proxy wars around the world while coping with moles and betrayal and the internecine wars of bureaucracy. It all comes full circle in ways tragic and sad.
Matt Damon had an incredible challenge playing a man so closed that almost no one knows him. Apparently a composite of several early CIA founders, most notably the brilliant, mole-obsessed James Jesus Angleton, this character is a man that expects betrayal, can trust no one around him and ultimately cannot trust himself in the form of his own emotions. Damon somehow conveys the man's inner anguish without breaking his stern outer resolve. And yet we see flashes, glimpses of the man's regrets, of his lost capacity to love and give of himself.
There are coincidences and some doubtful scenes and situations that Edward particpates in or witnesses that seem a bit contrived but are necessary to broaden the scope of the film, and it is a truncated history by necessity. I can't speak to whether some of the methods and tactics as shown, in particular one interrogation scene, are accurate for the period, and the assertion by a defector that the Soviet Union is bankrupt and hollow rings false for 1961, but overall the mood and tone of the piece seems right. The nonchalance of the privileged elite in assuming leadership roles and the WASP heritage of the OSS and its offspring is presented well and no doubt persists into our world if you think of the Skull & Bones contest of the 2004 Presidential election.
At any rate, I applaud DeNiro and company for taking on such non-General audience material. This is John Le Carre territory, and has much more in common with the Alec Guinness versions of his spy stories as seen in the TV productions of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Smiley's People", with an equally inscrutable central character, than Bourne or Bond or whatever. This is espionage carried out by a polyglot confusion of often damaged people: patriots, true-believers, careerists, liars, cheats, thieves, sadists and worse--the callous, greedy and corrupt. As one of them says spies are ultimately "romantics" and romantics are ever doomed to disappointment and failure. The DeNiro character (based on Wild Bill Donovan, founder and legend of OSS)says "in the end we're all clerks" or "bootmakers for the King" as another says.
Watching the idealism of Damon's Edward Wilson harden into the ruthless pragmatism of the cool and calculating ultimate bureaucrat was a chilling and worthwhile experience for me. It is a hard, often cruel world we live in, and the world these people inhabit is very hard indeed, and we cannot expect the people we ask to live there not to be somehow affected. Edward's final compromise with himself and his ideals is that he can make no compromise with who he is and what he does. They are now one and the same. Ideals have been replaced by sheer, rigorous efficiency, and conscience by lies within lies and secrets within secrets
The cast supporting Damon (Hurt, Turturro, Baldwin, Crudup, Jolie, Gambon et al)is fine. The production likewise. In an interview DeNiro said that he hopes to continue this story with at least one more film. I hope this one is successful enough that he gets the chance to do so, as I would like to see this story taken forward all the way up to our times. I remember when films like The Spy Who Came In From the Cold or All the President's Men could be hits. I hope this film can find its audience as well, for it is a fine effort."
MICHAEL ACUNA | Southern California United States | 12/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) is a somber, quiet man. Every morning he leaves his middle class home in the suburbs and along with his neighbors boards a bus for downtown D.C. But unlike his neighbors, who presumably work as office functionaries, Wilson is a top, experienced, "higher-up" for the C.I.A. and though, on the surface dressed exactly like his neighbors in felt fedora and Sears trench coats, Wilson is headed for the monolith that is the C.I.A. headquarters. As written by Eric Roth and directed by Robert De Niro (De Niro's only other directing job was "A Bronx Tale"), "The Good Shepherd" traces the genesis of the C.I.A. as it evolves from the World War II O.S.S. and central to this terrific, fascinating, intelligently written and passionately directed movie is the story of Wilson himself and the ultimate tragedy of his life: a life that begins to unravel the moment he agrees to become a spy right out of college. Wilson, as portrayed by Matt Damon is the perfect spy if there is such a thing: he is without humor, looks like a thousand other men, dresses like a small town banker and is passionate about only two things: his son and his miniature ship in a bottle hobby. And anytime he strays from these two things, as in women or sex, he fails miserably. The world of Espionage is a dirty business, one that defies and twists the basic notions of truth, loyalty and pride. For Wilson there is almost no room for anything else: upon marrying he leaves his pregnant girlfriend, Clover(Angelina Jolie) for six years to serve in Europe without thinking about it twice. His life is his work and his work ultimately ruins his life by chipping away at the basic goodness and humanity that infuses his core self. By the end of this film, he is used up...hollow. "The Good Shepherd" moves back and forward in time from Wilson's initiation into the Skulls and Bones at Yale through the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 and though the running time is approximately three hours, you are never bored for on the one hand, De Niro keeps things moving quickly and on the other the subject matter is rife with conflict, mystery and operates on the very highest level of commitment and interest. "
Le Carré, American Style
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 06/09/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Though not for all tastes, "The Good Shepherd" (2006) is an engrossing spy drama in the John le Carré tradition. Director Robert De Niro gets the most out of his well-cast ensemble, with Matt Damon remarkably effective as the emotionally cold CIA operative and co-founder. Running nearly three hours, the film's leisurely pace works in its favor - chronicling the CIA's evolution from 1939 to the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961. Hopefully, De Niro will continue to explore this fascinating saga in his next directorial project."
A Masterpiece About Sacrifice
Andre Heeger | Germany | 08/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Not the typical spy movie, more a beautifully directed intense psychological drama. Flashback: The six year old Edward Wilson watches his father prepare to commit suicide, although at that moment the boy doesn't realize it. His father discovers him, sends him away, closes the door and shoots himself. This traumatic experience ironically prepares Edward for a career in the CIA. It will take him around the globe, far away from home, maybe even away from his soul... Edward (wonderfully portrayed by Matt Damon) is almost unable to show his true feelings. He talks very little, gives up his true love to stay with the woman who will give birth to his son (marvelous: Angelina Jolie). For all of his life he will sacrifice everything around him to serve his country. It is all he has. When, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, he is asked to find the mole in the organization, he begins to realize there is not anyone he can trust, never was. Not his father, not his university teacher, not his so-called friends, not even his super. There might have been loved ones who could have saved him from all his internal misery: his first love, his wife, his son. But it is too late. He cannot trust and there is betrayal all around. It becomes clear that he never got over that terrible shock when he entered the room and found his father lying dead on the floor. A wonderful film about fate and the choices we all make, where they lead us and what might have been had we taken another road... The images are perfect, the actors magnificent, Robert De Niro's directing superb. A very complex must have to watch over and over again. As to the length of the movie. I just noticed other reviewers had a problem with that. Not me. I never got bored for a second. I never even got pulled away from the storyline. Sure, it is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, but I didn't realize it until the credits started rolling. As always (well, almost) the HD DVD's images are brilliant and the combo disc includes 16 minutes of deleted scenes (in HD), picture in picture access."
C. B Collins Jr. | Atlanta, GA United States | 01/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I gave this film 5 stars for its courage and willingness to trust the intelligence of the audience to unravel a complex plot and complicated relationships. This is not an easy film for those who don't wish to solve the multiple puzzles we are presented. The film reflects a philosophy that both character analysis and espionage are complex, multi-layered, and often are not what they seem on the surface.
The film uses a crisis situation at the CIA to unfold the history of the CIA as well as the history of the agency's top administrators that parallels the development of the agency and its mission. The Bay of Pigs invasion is a failure and it appears that Fidel Castro and his Soviet handlers were well aware of where the invading force would land on the coast of Cuba. This crisis is revisited repeatedly as we see the development of the CIA and the development of Edmund Wilson, an OSS Officer who becomes a CIA founder.
Matt Damon plays a resolved, cold character, Edmund Wilson, who is dedicated to the protection of his country even though there are multiple consequences for him, his wife, and his son. He receives two odd, manipulated video and audio tapes that begin to reveal who might have tipped off the soviets and Fidel that the Americans were coming. These tapes are all part of a complex effort to neutralize Wilson by the KGB.
The film traces the development of the agency from its OSS roots in World War II. Wilson becomes a spy and is located in London during the war where he is involved with some of the spy and counter-spy activities with the Nazis. His old English Professor at Yale turns out to be a spy who mentors him during the war on intelligence gathering and analysis. However after the war in post-war Berlin he gets to fully experience and develop his craft in a cat and mouse game with the Soviets as they try to find Nazi scientists that both wish to capture and recruit for the emerging cold war.
Yet all these espionage experiences also teach him that he can not trust anyone as he experiences duplicity from trusted friends and associates. Gradually Wilson becomes more aware of his KGB rival and they play a deadly and complex game to undermine each other's attempts at intelligence gathering. For example, Wilson attempts to get Nazi scientists out of Germany before the Soviets can obtain them. His translator is eventually revealed to be a spy who is helping the Soviets obtain the scientists or at least trade Jewish scientists for Nazi scientists.
The Soviet spy known as Ulysses sends decoy officials to give disinformation to the CIA, he follows Wilson and tries to disrupt his marriage when Wilson has a one-night-stand with an old girlfriend. Eventually the pain and intrigue gets closer and closer to Wilson, trying to find a way to compromise his integrity and put him in a position to give information to the Soviets.
I found the film very interesting and complex, requiring me to pay attention to subtle relationships, images, lines of dialogue, and understated movements. This gives the film a feeling of authenticity. In addition, the KGB and the CIA both played very dirty and this seems very realistic. We see spies killed once they are no longer needed and have too much information to allow to live.
The cast was superb with Matt Damon playing a cool, hardened man who has sacrificed much for his country yet his sacrifice is silent and only he really knows the extent of what he has lost and how little he has personally gained. In fact, the man had not really gained personally at all except that he has been given intellectually devious competition against which he feels he must prevail. He sacrificed his first love to marry the pregnant sister of his Yale friend and co-member of the Skull and Bones club.
Angelina Jolie plays the flirty passionate Senator's daughter who becomes married to a cold man possessed with a mission to protect the USA. She is neglected and resentful. Years of absence from the home distances husband and wife until Edmund can only feel compassion for his wife for all she has endured to support his career and dedication.
William Hurt plays the handsome, smart, first director of the CIA who overplays his hand by becoming a board member of a coffee company that benefits from the CIA assassinating the President of a Latin American nation that was nationalizing the businesses within their borders on a path toward Communism. Edmund Wilson gentle lets him know that the game is up and thus allows him to resign and move on without scandal.
Robert De Nero plays the role of a General who heads OSS and then lays the groundwork for the CIA at the end of WWII. Alec Balwin plays a cool detached FBI agent who is an ally for Wilson and allows him to identify problem personnel within the CIA. Billy Crudup plays his British counterpart and mentor who eventually is revealed to be something other than what he presents. Joe Pesci plays a Mafia don who assists in the Bay of Pigs invasion when Castro takes over 4 of his casinos in Havana.
Eventually the Bay of Pigs crisis is resolved from the intelligence aspect and the culprit who has said too much is revealed. Heavy prices are paid.
Those that serve their country with their minds are often overlooked and under appreciated since they make personal sacrifice that only they know have been made. The sacrifices are not made just by the individual who is in government service, but also by those that love him/her and those that he/she loves. This intelligent film honors all those individuals. It is brave motion picture making. "