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 Croft 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
With The Good Shepherd, Robert De Niro (A Bronx Tale) makes an ambitious return to the directors chair. A labour of love for Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), the film tells an epic, fictionalised account of how the Central Intelligence Agency was born. Matt Damon plays Edward Wilson, a reserved young man who graduated from Yale in the late 1930s. His membership in the exclusive Skull and Bones society led him away from poetry and into a relationship with the federal government, who recruited him to help them on several covert operations. Roths script alternates between Wilsons gradual emergence as a genuine government operative in the early 1940s and the infamous Bay of Pigs conflict in the early 1960s. Along the way, he has a sweet romance with a pretty deaf girl (a sparkling Tammy Blanchard) and ends up marrying the woman he makes pregnant (Angelina Jolie) out of a strong sense of duty. Throughout the film, the emergence of a mysterious tape haunts Wilson, who is determined to uncover the truth behind a leak in his secret organisation. Production designer Jeannine Claudia Oppewall (L.A. Confidential, Catch Me if You Can) and costume designer Ann Roth (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley) faithfully recreate these earlier periods in American history, while the imagery of Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (J.F.K., The Aviator) casts a warm, stately glow upon De Niros assembled cast of luminaries (including Alec Baldwin, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, and Joe Pesci). The result is a production that recalls Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and Steven Spielberg's Munich.
Damon/Jolie/De Niro ~ Good Shepherd