The Good Shepherd

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The Good Shepherd
Review (6/10)
(By Brendan Cullin)

The Good Shepherd is being promoted as a movie about the birth of the CIA but in actuality, it seems more a movie about the life and times of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a one-time Ivy League poetry student, an alumni of the elite Skull and Bones Society, a bureaucrat of sorts for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and eventually, a top dog with the infamous CIA.

The story takes us back and forth in Wilson's life from 1939 when he was a student at Yale, to 1961 at the height of the Cold War and during the events leading up to the Bay of Pigs (and shortly thereafter). It is a time when Wilson seems to defy father time and ages nary a minute. Perhaps only his glasses change during these 22 years. If only we could all be so lucky. Wilson is a bad father and a worse husband. He does not crack a single smile during the entire 22 years of his life featured in this movie. But he is a patriot and he loves his country and during those tumultuous years, that is all that seemed to matter to him and his collegues. Unfortunately, being in the spy business takes its toll on Wilson's life. His son doesn't love him and his wife (played by Angelina Jolie - who does, in fact, age somewhat gracefully) likes him even less but Wilson marches on to the beat of the Star Spangled Banner until nothing is left in his personal life. Nothing but a sparkling new office at the brand-spanking-new headquarters of the CIA.

So with The Good Shepherd, we have Damon, Jolie, director and movie-legend Robert De Niro and a supporting cast that includes De Niro himself, John Turturro, William Hurt, Alec Baldwin (who is slowly becoming my favourite "small role" actors of the decade), Billy Crudup, Joe Pesci and a movie about the CIA - what more could we ask for? Seemingly this movie should immediately be filed under the category of "instant classic", should it not? No, not so quickly. With The Good Shepherd, what we get is a slow, plodding, 2 hour and 40 minute movie that, at times, seems on the verge of cracking open the secrets locked away in the filing cabinets of the CIA but instead, merely tells us that Edward Wilson is a robot, the Soviet Union may not have ever been the threat it was made out to be, and the U.S. really blew it during the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Even more disappointing is the fact that Joe Pesci is limited to about three minutes of screen time where he cracks a few racist comments and then disappears - forever. If you're looking to find out who killed JFK or if the CIA spied on Elvis, The Good Shepherd is not the movie for you. In fact, chances are you will leave the theatre with more questions in your head than when you entered. I really want to know if the CIA discovered a fountain of youth that prevented Matt Damon from aging during the 22 years between 1939 and 1961. Sadly, we will never know the answer.

In all seriousness, The Good Shepherd isn't a terrible movie. In fact, it will probably be mildly entertaining for people interested in spy games, espionage and Angelina Jolie's lips. I have a pretty big interest in two of those three things so the movie wasn't a complete waste for me. I just found it so, so long and I was disappointed that it never opened any old wounds of the CIA and it never told any deep, dark secrets. Even one secret would have been nice. There were times too that I found some of the dialogue seemed like it could have been written by a high school student, especially some of the conversations between Wilson and his young son - "Hi Son" - "Hi Dad" "How are you Son" "I'm great Father, how are you". Maybe that's how they spoke in those days. Who knows. Nevertheless, The Good Shepherd will have an appeal to a certain audience, especially those interested in the real-life spy game. Just be prepared to strap yourself in for close to three hours. And don't order the big soda - stick with the small size or avoid ordering one altogether.

Overall, I think The Good Shepherd can be summed up in with these simple words - intriguing at times but for the most part, not very memorable. But do remember this - avoid the big drink.

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