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3.6 out of 5 stars130
3.6 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 9 May 2007
This is a long, sombre film that charts the origins of the CIA from its WWII OSS roots. It follows the career of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a privileged Yale graduate, up to 1961 and the Bay of Pigs invasion into Cuba.

Along the way, we are shown that the early CIA was a bastion of the Ivy League Establishment. We are also given a hard look at the types of people with a flair for Intelligence work - there are no James Bonds here. Damon does well with a character it's hard to empathise with, who always puts his work first and lets his family life suffer. (The casting of Angelina Jolie as Damon's put-upon wife seemed to be stretching a point though!)

This film is an antidote to the usual, glamorous depictions of espionage that cinema gives us. The Agency operatives here, and their Russian counterparts, seem like staid civil servants most of the time, which makes the occasional scenes of violence all the more chilling, especially as there is nothing stylised about them.

The cast here is first rate (Joe Pesci has an especially entertaining cameo as a Meyer Lansky Mob figure, whose help the CIA attempt to enlist prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion - though it is not explained that Castro had confiscated the Mob's Cuban casinos upon coming to power).

De Niro has given us a film that soberly examines the world of spies and starkly shows us the human cost of the games they play.
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on 30 January 2008
In summary, I enjoyed this film but not one of the best.
In fact, there may be many people who switch off half way through.

The film is a little slow in unravelling the story and definitely not the most action packed, very much a storytelling film.

The story is essentially about how the CIA saw its roots in the OSS during teh second world war and then formed as an official organisation post the second world war to protect US interests in the world.

It revolves around one key character, Matt Damon, who is acted very well although not that hard as he is not a man of many words.

What really struck me was the type of people that populate the CIA. Definitely not your normal every day family person !

Robert De Niro should be proud in adding this to his directorial roster.

If you like a good story (as opposed to an action packed fim) along the lines of Munich et al, then you should enjoy this.
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on 18 April 2007
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 [...], 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.
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on 14 February 2010
The past 25 years of modern cinema has witnessed a continual bombardment of our senses by the 'action' films; the films that provide that hit of 'explosive cinema' such as the early Die Hard films, the pairing of Russell and Stallone in Tango and Cash, or the recent trend of apocolyptic pap that has only recently ended with a film with a headline that I overheard one cinema-goer call 'quarter past eight?'.....2012.

So used to this unabated violence are we, that we shy away from quality acting and scripts that revert to classic theatre (where you have to sit and think about the dialogue as opposed to have it given to you, and to be patient with the formulation of sub-plot). This film swims away from the banality of plots that are around today; those bereft of imagination; and those that eschew patient and forensic attention to detail in every aspect of production.

For those of you who like to absorb dialogue and have the capacity to sit and watch a story unravel without needing to hit the 'action' switch; this one is for you.
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If you ever wondered how the CIA came to be, and who formed the fledgling organisation, then this is a fascinating movie. Like the novels of Robert Littell, it goes into the hidden depths of the intelligence network and examines how it formed in the aftermath of WW2, who started to work for it, and how the Company took over their lives.

Yet although The Good Shepherd is about what became a massive organisation, it's told as a very personal story. We follow Matt Damon's novice agent as he becomes an influential character, hovering on the edges of historical disasters and triumphs. We see how his life is dominated by the CIA and its secrets; how the war separated him from his wife and how his paranoia pushes them further apart.

Angelina Jolie is excellent as his wife, by the way. (If you doubt her acting ability then check out Girl Interrupted). She even ages through the decades of the story with some credibility.

Robert De Niro is the director of the film and he appears in it briefly (with a scary example of what diabetes can do to you!). There's a great supporting cast overall, but Damon takes the real credit. His character couldn't be further away from the action man Jason Bourne, and is entirely believable.

In the end, the ultimate CIA man has to make the ultimate decision. Does he betray his country or his grown up son? It's a painful and shocking ending to a long but well measured film.

Don't watch this if you're looking for James Bond thrills, but give it a go if you enjoy Le Carre-style spying. At the very least it sheds light on how good people end up doing bad things to protect the country they love. At best, it's an entralling evening's entertainment.
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on 10 February 2008
"The Good Shepherd" is a masterpiece. If you go to the cinema expecting to see a James Bond film or Indiana Jones or some other mainstream movie, of course, you will be disappointed. As you would be if you visit an art gallery with the same attitude. "The Good Shepherd" is a work of art. It does what every good work of art should do: It makes you experience that which it is talking about and it leaves you puzzled and sends you home with a job of thinking to do. It is mostly a misunderstanding that sends you home looking at a Van Gogh or a Max Ernst thinking that you have seen a "lovely painting". If you think that, you might as well not have looked at it at all. Actually, it might take you years to really understand what you have seen. Similarly this film. You might have to watch it twice, you might need to read a couple of books, you might need to watch the (political) world for quite some time until you see the pieces fall into place and get an idea of the world you live in. You might even ask yourself how close "Edward Wilson" comes to a figure like Eichmann in expressing the "banality of evil" (Hannah Arendt). Maybe, as some critics say, Angelina Jolie in spite of acting brilliantly is just not the right actor for this film and timescale but maybe even that opens up a path to a connection with the present? In all, an ingenious film and whoever didn't like it should perhaps get back to his sofa with a six-pack and watch something else.
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on 29 April 2007
There is nothing wrong with this film. It is a good, intellegent film with an interesting plot. There is nothing wrong with a long film either except when it tries to incorporate the level of detail that you read in a book. There is too much emphasis on very minor details which uses up unnecessary film time and therefore can easily lose the audiences interest. Worth a watch but it could definitely do with a small bit of editing.
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on 24 November 2007
Majestic in scope and bitty in plot.

This film quietly destroys the romantic notion of the spy in the way the spy quietly destroys everything that is sacred and noble in humanity.

A purposeful indictment of the USA during the cold war. Revealing the really nasty side of human nature.

A great film, and terrible to behold the true underbelly of American Foreign intervention.

A horrible tale of wasted lives told brilliantly. It applies to us in Britain today, to anyone who works in administration and betrays humanity for the sake of bureaucracy.
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on 20 March 2008
It is banal to say that 'the characters do not develop' Anyone who can say something like this about this thoughtful, intelligent film has clearly failed to grasp its essence. I found it intriguing, densely plotted and a complex insight into a character who ultimately finds himself isolated by the moral choices he has made. It offers a perceptive insight into what happens to the personality when an individual is forced, through the demands of a life founded upon secrecy and deceit, to be inauthentic and to lie in his personal life. And while the character may have made these choices for what he believed to be laudable moral reasons, he nonetheless finds himself at the end of the film caught in a terrible personal dilemma. I thought it was an extremely clever film, a deep and complicated depiction of a traumatised childhood and how this might compromise a person's psychological development. If you like films that make you think, then this is definitely one to watch. It bears repeated viewing to fully understand the complexities of plot and character and the careful and sensitive photography.
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on 4 January 2010
A surprising film from De Niro - this history of the CIA through the career of one of its leading lights is actually very good, if somewhat overlong. I don't know why it should be so surprising but you just wouldn't have imagined him to have been interested in this sort of thing (maybe it was playing an ex CIA man in 'Meet The Parents').

Matt Damon's character is more George Smiley than Jason Bourne and though, by the end, he doesn't seem to have aged enough he still does a good job (and he looks quite good in drag too!).

The acting overall is fine, Angelina Jolie is good as his long-suffering wife and there's a fine fruity turn from Michael Gambon, hamming it up as only a British stage-trained actor can.

The film is also interesting for its look at America's ruling class, where going to the right college and being a member of the right fraternity prove to be the first steps to power, and if you thought all that wearing aprons and rolling up your trouser-leg in Freemasonry was silly, wait till you see what the Skull and Bones mob get upto.
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