The Good Shepherd is an immensely ambitious task for director Robert De Niro, who last directed 1993’s coming-of-age crime drama. The film, loaded with a number of characters played by name actors. Attempts to construct the beginnings of the CIA. In a plot that spans over thirty years, mainly from the end of World War II to after the Bay of Pigs.
Good Shepherd :The Casting and the Plot
Edward Wilson (Matt Damon, playing an affectless, completely cold-blooded type) is recruited from Yale’s secret. Elite Skull and Bones group into the early U.S. intelligence community. One that is set up to square off against the KGB in the Cold War era.The U.S. looks for pointers from the British Secret Service. Here represented by Dr. Fredericks (Michael Gambon) and Arch Cummings (Billy Crudup). It’s here that Wilson learns the dirty, soul-sucking job that being a spy is.
Wilson has a wife and kid back home. Clover (Angelina Jolie), is knocked up by Wilson after a one-night stand (or was she already pregnant?). Having him “do the right thing” and marry her and leave his true love. Laura (Tammy Blanchard). For the first six years of their marriage. Wilson learns the tricks of the trade, the husband and wife hardly know each other.
Joined by a military recruit, Ray Brocco (John Turturro), in a department run by Philip Allen (William Hurt), the focus of the movie is on how the Bay of Pigs turned into such a botched operation.
FBI comes in Scene
FBI agent Sam Murach (Alec Baldwin) throws in his occasional help. A russian defector named Valentin Mironov (John Sessions) trades secrets for asylum. And ultimately, Edward Wilson squares off and trades secrets with KGB agent Ulysses (Oleg Stefan), in the movie’s eerie theme of intelligence agencies creating more world unrest to continue working. Eventually, Wilson’s son, Ed Jr. (Eddie Redmayne) grows up and wants to be a part of dad’s secret life. Holy crap! How many plot developments are in one freaking movie ?
The Good Portion
For a very good portion of this film, I dug the hell out of it. The setup is great, and though it moves in a slow manner, it’s engrossing, like a book you don’t want to blow through too fast. Edward Wilson, as played by Matt Damon, might seem like some sort of drone to the casual viewer, frustrating them with his lack of emotion, but it’s this very trait that makes him such an appalling human being, and Damon manages to find a lot in this limited range.
The Secrets Revealed
But when the movie reveals its secrets, it begins to unravel a bit. Multiple viewings will likely be rewarded, because there are so many characters and so many plot points, if you look sideways from the screen for one moment, you might be screwed. Unfortunately, how many people in the world will want to sit through it again, knowing the running time and knowing that it never quite moves briskly?
To me, this is an almost great film. It’s very good with patience. Depending on that, you might find it a long, boring ride indeed.