The Good Shepherd (2006)
The Good Shepherd (2006)

Genre: Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 47 min.

Release Date: December 22nd, 2006 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robert De Niro Actors: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, Keir Dullea, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, John Turturro, Lee Pace, Joe Pesci, Tammy Blanchard, Martina Gedeck, Eddie Redmayne

 


 

E

dward Wilson (Matt Damon) is a well-rounded Yale graduate, who is quickly recruited into the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency due to his desired qualities of discretion and commitment. But suspicion and paranoia gradually overrun his once steadfast belief in American values, as he rapidly becomes a chief operative and an integral part of a system that collapses under the pressures of results over righteousness. Engulfed in distrust and intent on combating his KGB rival, Wilson consequently sacrifices his ideals and his family in the pursuit of his career.

“The Good Shepherd” achieves what films of this length (nearly three hours) are rarely able to, which is to delve into the inner-workings of its lead players and explore their character development to the fullest, while also maintaining tenseness and effective pacing. Meaningful events and poignant dialogue work well together to immerse the viewer in the traumatic lives of those involved in the secretive bureau and its shaky roots. Most prominent is the character study of the fictitious Edward Wilson, whose dynamic rise and fall parallels the roles from epic gangster films (the project was initially in the hands of Francis Ford Coppola) right alongside spy thrillers (it was also picked up by John Frankenheimer, but he died before it could be completed). Like so many tragic roles, Wilson fails in preventing what seems to be an inevitable destiny, though he manages to wash away guilt and perhaps even an acknowledgement of the sacrifices made to preserve the very job that keeps him in such an ominous stranglehold. In a twist of irony, he relishes in the accomplishments that lead to an absolute solitude and the disintegration of his family. So many of his ill deeds are attempts at righting other wrongs, yet he’s perpetually trapped in compromises and decisions that aid the agency above the preservation of his humanity. He’s the perfect, unfeeling tool for conducting difficult ventures, unaware even in reflection of the repercussions of his self-deception.

This icy cold Cold War spy film is brought to life by masterful performances by Matt Damon and an ensemble cast that includes Angelina Jolie, William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, Timothy Hutton, and Keir Dullea. Additionally, John Turturro plays operative Ray Brocco, a man who follows a comparable psychological downfall, as he retains his sense of humor at his inception into the agency, only to gradually develop into a menacing, efficiently torturous henchman. And Robert De Niro, who also directs, makes a brief appearance, as does Joe Pesci, who has been curiously out of the spotlight for a very long time, garnering a high billing even though his character appears for only a single scene. Matched up with the acting is a sweeping and melodic score full of moody violins and brass. Similarly, De Niro favors gloomy lighting, high contrast night scenes, and lingering close-ups that reflect inner turmoil, while also capturing the noirish look of the classic pictures he strives to emulate.

Slightly disconcerting is the timeline, however, which jumps from one point to another, occasionally offering up a bit of disorientation, especially for viewers unfamiliar with the historical events mixed into this fictional chronicling of the CIA. In a shorter film, this wouldn’t be as problematic, but due to its long duration, “The Good Shepherd” is occasionally hard to follow. Matt Damon’s character appears unchanged and ageless throughout, while his son (at one point, a young Eddie Redmayne) grows up, switching from one actor to another. And the storyline itself consists of numerous events of espionage, backstabbing, and investigations that continuously intersect, repeat, or are revisited. But, with all of its secret fraternities, devious murders, and cunning sleuthing, “The Good Shepherd” gives audiences the opportunity to witness a cinematic destruction of family, loss of innocence, and the detrimental effects of prioritizing career over family like the very best slow-burn spy games of John le Carre.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10