There’s a murder. A woman named Lucy Gallagher (Nancy Beatty) sees a man standing over the body. It turns out, this man is a priest named Father Andrews (Von Flores), and he gets charged in the murder. He claims that the murder told him in confession who the murderer actually is, but since confession is confidential — the film actually makes a point of explaining this to us, so that nobody is lost — he cannot say who it was.
Enter Daniel Clemens (Christian Slater), another priest. We find out through him, and Cardinal Ledesna (Gordon Pinsent) that Andrews actually can say who the supposed murder actually is, as it isn’t technically considered a mortal sin. Andrews is adamant and won’t say who confessed to him, and as a result, it kept in captivity. The next morning, we’re told that Andrews hanged himself in the showers. Clemens doesn’t believe this, and neither do we. If a man is so devoted to his faith that he won’t risk giving up a murderer, why would he commit suicide, something that might risk his entry into the gates of St. Peter.
Clemens decides to embark on a quest to try to clear Andrews’ name, although the exact reason isn’t particularly clear. The rest of the church is perfectly okay with calling him a bad seed and putting this event in their past. But Clemens doesn’t feel this way, and he’s going to do whatever he can in order to solve the mystery of a murder I didn’t really care about. Maybe Andrews didn’t do it, maybe he did, but what does it matter? Andrews is now dead, and unless resurrection is in the cards, it’ll never matter to him whether people believe that he did it or not. Besides, God certainly knows whether this man killed another or not.
What we end up getting is a fairly basic mystery film with the good priest trying to find out who is really a murderer. Again, I don’t think there’s much point to this, but if it makes sense to Clemens, that’s all that really matters. Along the way, a bunch of people are questioned, there are a ton of red herrings, and the ending will probably come out of nowhere. At least, it did to me. I didn’t suspect the person who is actually guilty, although that’s probably because that person isn’t really in the film much, giving us little reason to suspect him or her.
As a result, the conclusion to The Good Shepherd comes as a surprise, almost like a twist ending. But it’s not effective because there haven’t been any clues for us to figure out who the killer is. There are a lot of times that make us question certain groups or individuals, but I’ll save you the trouble and tell you that they weren’t behind it. It’s a character you’ve barely seen and it makes little sense that he would be involved at all. There’s no motivation behind the killing, and when we eventually find out who it is, we find out that he’s killed “three times since [his] last confession.” Really now? And nobody has caught on? Why did you kill these people? We only find out about the first murder, and even then, it’s not a satisfactory explanation.
Even the investigation, which takes up the majority of the film, isn’t that involving for the audience. Maybe it’s because I didn’t believe it to be necessary in the first place, but every time Clemens would go talk to another character, I wanted him to get all of his answers so that he can get back to doing his job. And then he gets sidetracked a couple of times throughout, but those subplots don’t really lead anywhere.
The interesting parts of the film, like the corruption of the Catholic church, or possible abuse in shelters, are largely ignored. These are issues that could have been touched on or had statements made about them, but they get brought up used as a way to make us think about who is behind the murder, and then forgotten about. There’s also the suicide of Andrews, which Clemens believes was actually murder, which is never solved.
Clemens eventually asks for the help of his news reporter ex-wife, Madeline (Molly Parker), whose purpose is to follow him around and do nothing else. This is really a one-man show, and she basically just gets in the way, but allows him to portray his thoughts to the audience instead of talking to himself. There’s conflict between them, as he left her to become a priest a while ago, but that’s also a topic that is brought up but later ignored.
Are there parts of The Good Shepherd that are any good? Not really. Christian Slater doesn’t make a believable priest while all of the other characters sink into the background because this is his show to run. If there is anything to take out of this film, it’s that it’s only an hour and a half, so it’s not like it’s going to waste all that much of your time. And since it’s not a deep movie or one that will require much work or participation from the audience, you can turn your brain off and watch a determined man try to solve something that doesn’t need solving in the first place.
There’s nothing to like about The Good Shepherd, and there’s also no reason to give it a watch, unless you’re a rabid Christian Slater fan, because he’s in almost every frame of this film. The plot is mundane, the characters are lifeless, the twist at the end comes out of nowhere for the wrong reasons, and it sidesteps all of the interesting issues in favor of having Slater go around talking to random characters. This is a worthless murder mystery, and you have no reason to give it 90 minutes of your time.