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The Good Shepherd

2007-04-23 11:21
What it’s about:

The Good Shepherd tells the story of intelligence office Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) from his college induction into the Skulls and Bones fraternity, through his intelligence work during the Second World War, and his work co-founding the CIA. Edward is forced to choose between his family and his country, and his unwavering patriotism leads him to make some tough decisions, which come at a heavy personal cost.

What we thought of it:

On paper The Good Shepherd seems to have all the ingredients of a quality film. An excellent cast, a director (Robert De Niro) who is also a very distinguished actor, and an intriguing, factually based story about one of the most famous espionage organisations of our time. You’d expect that you’d be riveted, and given plenty of food for thought. So what went wrong?

The Good Shepherd is a bloated, self indulgent mess that has little commercial appeal, and provides nothing for the indie/art film audience either. It rivals the Lord of the Rings movies for running time, yet has less action than an episode of “Murder She Wrote”.

Another big letdown is the casting of Matt Damon in the lead role of the sensitive patriot who becomes the cold, embittered intelligence guru. Wearing either a completely neutral, or slightly worried expression for the entire film, he wanders woodenly through endless grey locations, speaking in hushed tones. Despite the terrible price this often duplicitous and underhanded work takes on his family, and on his conscience, he shows only the barest flicker of angst now and again. Since this conflict of interest is part of the sales pitch, it really fails to deliver on that count.

Another extremely annoying aspect of Damon’s character is that he does not appear to age at all during the 20 year span of the story. While his wife and son get visibly older, the Edward Wilson of 1961 looks exactly the same as the fresh faced graduate of 1939.

There are some great performances in the periphery, by Michael Gambon, Billy Crudup, and John Tuturro, who add some colour to the proceedings, but it is all lost in the never ending series of covert meetings, leaden conversations with double meanings, and flat characters in trench coats.

It’s certainly a courageous (or perhaps misguided) move on Robert Deniro’s part to eschew all the conventions of the thriller, and let The Good Shepherd coast along at the speed of the bureaucrats who work behind the scenes of the intelligence community, instead of clipping things along at the pace of a James Bond movie. Unfortunately it’s also incredibly boring.

If you’re interested in the formation of the CIA, then you may find something to hold your attention here, but if you are looking for entertainment, then avoid this. It does not even reveal all that much about the unanswered questions about the period during which it takes place, and leaves you wondering why you bothered.

- Ivan Sadler
A bloated, self-indulgent and agonizingly slow retelling of the birth of the CIA. Who cares if Robert De Niro directed it?


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