De Niro Directs Espionage Thriller about the Dark Side of the CIA
The Good Shepherd
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sex, expletives, ethnic slurs, violence, and female frontal nudity.
Running time: 168 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
Film Review by Kam Williams
Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) was lucky enough to be born with a blue-blooded WASP lineage. As a consequence, he was not only able to follow in his father's footsteps to Yale, but to join Skull and Bones, the college's secret society which has, for generations, served as a breeding ground for captains of industry, presidents and other powerful leaders.
While still in college, Edward was quietly recruited to serve his country overseas undercover, in order to monitor the rise of the Nazis in the late Thirties. However, he had mixed emotions about accepting the offer, primarily because his dad had also been a spy for the government, and had ended up committing suicide under mysterious circumstances while his son was just an adolescent.
But due to the not so subtle pressure from his fraternity brothers, Edward capitulated. He even dumped the deaf girl (Tammy Blanchard) he was dating to marry Clover (Angelina Jolie), the well-connected daughter of a senator (Keir Dullea), and sister of a fellow Bonesman (Gabriel Macht).
A week after their ostensibly arranged, if ill-advised wedding, Edward was whisked away from her to Germany to begin a career of espionage and counter-espionage so covert it was virtually impossible to sort the good guys from the bad guys. Almost never in the U.S, he persevered out of a blind sense of patriotism, despite the fact that the price for that loyalty is a loveless marriage and a resentful son (Eddie Redmayne).
So unfolds the thought-provoking premise established at the outset of The Good Shepherd, an intricately-plotted political potboiler which makes the idea of working for the CIA seem anything but romantic. Its prevailing theme is strikingly reminiscent of Steven Spielberg's Munich which, a year ago, examined the emotional toll tracking down Palestinian terrorists exacted on the Israeli agents assigned the task.
This flashback flick opens in 1961 during the badly-botched Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba, and alternates frequently between that pivotal moment in American history and assorted critical touchstones in Edward's life. What is ultimately of most interest is that Ed, Jr. eventually also attends Yale, joins Skull and Bones, and appears poised to embark on his own career as a CIA. Thus, the question becomes whether Ed, Sr. will intervene or allow his boy to make the same mistake as his father and grandfather.
The Good Shepherd was directed by Robert De Niro who co-stars and has assembled an A-list ensemble to execute Eric Roth's (Munich) brilliant script. The cast includes Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, Joe Pesci, Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon, though this is mostly a Matt Damon vehicle.
Tautly-edited to make nearly three hours pass imperceptibly, this intriguing meditation on the pitfalls of privilege is not to be missed.