The Good Shepherd: Captivating, Thrilling, and Long
by Alex Billington
December 21, 2006
The Good Shepherd is Robert DeNiro's latest directorial pet project: this time, he examines agent Edward Wilson and his secretive life during the dawn of the Central Intelligence Agency. The film is a tantalizing thriller that opens new doors of discovery with new characters every minute. It's intriguing, mysterious, and confusing, with excellent directing from DeNiro and an enormous cast of greats that all add considerable depth to an already elaborate story.
The Good Shepherd is an intricately woven story of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), one of the founding members of the CIA, including his personal life and wife (Angelina Jolie) and son (Eddie Redmayne). It jumps between time periods and stories frequently, including Wilson's college days in the secretive Skull and Bones society, multiple situations during World War II and the first operations in what would become the CIA, and the primary story of the intelligence failures around the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. These stories, told through many flashbacks, make up the mysterious, thrilling, and confusing story of Edward Wilson in The Good Shepherd.
DeNiro is a masterful director in his occasional outings, but the story itself seems to be a lengthy expose - one with too many sails on its carefully crafted ship in a bottle. The audience is drawn quickly into the shadowy story as light enigmatic musical strings sweep through the auditorium and the fades are long and smooth. Wilson's words, each carefully chosen, dot his vocabulary, even as his wife states, "you don't say very much, do you?" Although remarkably well directed, The Good Shepherd boasts too much confusion and lengthy interpretation to maintain its initial excitement.
Matt Damon's repertoire has just been getting better and better, building on each phenomenal performance and gaining more momentum with every new film. True to form, Damon puts in an incredible performance in The Good Shepherd. He easily fills the soft-spoken role and maintains a sheer peculiarity throughout, yet leads strongly with the well-known cast in their smaller roles. Based partly on CIA counter-intelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, the character Damon plays demonstrates the questionable mental state that led to Angleton's undoing. Everyone involved, including Joe Pesci, William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, and Billy Crudup, delivers a vivid and intriguing performance that one would expect during the formative years of the CIA. The acting and the cast only help to twist and skew the confusion and mystery, and in a film like this that's exactly what they're meant to do.
The Good Shepherd unquestionably deserves at least a second viewing in order to catch all of the hidden secrets and innuendos to interpret the story even further. It seems that the film is a bit confusing initially, with deceiving characters and large numbers of individuals that you must remember, but it plays out over its 168 minute running time into a somewhat discernable ending. The lesson learned at the end: trust no one, as everything is a mystery or secret to be revealed, even as a first time viewer.
The Good Shepherd is captivating and constantly thrilling, but long. It's an arduous task to keep up with it and its mysterious secrets for over two and a half twisted hours. DeNiro's direction is outstanding on a film that was reportedly in development for some nine years. Consider this a calling for him to work on even more directorial projects and to dazzle us more often. With its vast all-star cast, The Good Shepherd is a head-scratching film at best, drawing its strength from the cast, the direction, and a mood that'll leave even yourself looking over your shoulder on the way home.