Universal // 2006 // 168 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // July 17th, 2007
"Everything that seems clear is bent and everything that seems bent is clear. Trapped in reflections, you must learn to recognize when a lie masquerades as the truth."
What do you think of when you think of spy movies? James Bond washing up on a beach with Ursula Andress, a non-stop chase with Jason Bourne, or perhaps the slapstick and silliness of Austin Powers?The Good Shepherd may star Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon, but don't look for thrills and action. Think along the lines of John LeCarre-style disillusionment, as seen in The Constant Gardener, and you'll be getting warmer.
It's 1961. President Kennedy is looking for a fall guy in the wake of the Bay of Pigs failure. Top-level CIA man Edward Wilson (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity) has his own problems in the form of a package containing a photo and tape that he finds inside his door when he comes home from work one day.Wilson takes the package in for analysis. As the CIA team studies the photo and tape to find out who's in the picture and where it was taken, Wilson analyzes his own life in flashbacks, recalling his initiation into Yale's Skull and Bones secret society, his recruitment into the OSS and his wartime service, and his role in the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency.Wilson's home life is bleak. He married his lovely wife Clover (Angelina Jolie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) only because she became pregnant, and he left on their wedding day for World War II service overseas. He returns to find the once-saucy beauty asking him to sleep in the guest room; she's even rechristened herself Margaret to reflect her newly serious nature.The key to unlocking Edward Wilson's mind might be found in the suicide note left by Edward's father when the future CIA "heart and soul" was only six years old -- if Edward is brave enough to open the sealed note and read it. As The Good Shepherd jumps from vignette to vignette, will it land on this key?
As Jason Bourne (or whoever he really was), Matt Damon was a kinetic energy machine and an emotional avenger. As Edward Wilson, Damon's restrained, perhaps too much so. Over the course of the movie, the audience sees the cracks in Damon's excellently crafted poker face, one that clearly shows he's thinking but doesn't let anyone know what he's thinking. However, he only lets Wilson's emotions loose once, as the CIA man argues with his wife Margaret.The character of Wilson often comes across as too much of a passive vessel. He stands by helplessly as his British intelligence tutor is tossed into a river by his own side. His first meeting with future wife Clover finds her making all the moves.The character study is often well done and even insightful, but Wilson hardly has the magnetism of Charles Foster Kane. While there's a fine supporting cast, led by Jolie, there's little attempt to show their inner lives; it's Wilson's story all the way. I'd have liked to have seen more of the passion and idealism that the one-time poetry student must have started out with, so that the toll of his descent into the amoral world of espionage could be measured. The Good Shepherd also could have been sheared down to a more manageable two-hour form.Even though I'd have liked a little less of The Good Shepherd to look at, I liked its atmospheric look. Characters are often seen as shadows, reflecting the shadowy nature of their work, and director Robert De Niro uses the ambient noise of rain, church bells, and footsteps excellently to emphasize the movie's moral points as well as creating a noirish mood. The haunting, somber musical score also is used well. These things come across excellently in this transfer.The only extras here are deleted scenes. Most of this 16-minute package reveals a subplot about Clover's brother coming home from imprisonment in Russia. I was grateful to the editors for clipping out the subplot, but there's a nice character moment for John Turturro (Transformers) as Wilson's assistant at the end as he and Wilson pack up the London office.
Despite my irritation with the stone-faced character of Wilson, I'll have to say Matt Damon played him effectively, and breaks away from his Bourne identity without trouble. If you come into it prepared for a lengthy, intense experience, The Good Shepherd has some great scenes and overall strong craftsmanship.
The Good Shepherd is obviously well crafted, but I found myself looking at my watch after the two-hour mark. It's a study of a character who's rather hard to watch. Even as it runs long and goes off in numerous directions, The Good Shepherd could stand to tell the audience more about Wilson's key relationships with his wife and his son.
The overall effort's not guilty, but I'll hand down a misdemeanor charge of insufficient trimming for this Good Shepherd.
Review content copyright © 2007 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 168 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes