In the chilling words of a new director within a new CIA headquarters the discussion on government overview prompts these words, paraphrased, “the is not used in front of CIA for the same reason it’s not used in front of God.” Coming to terms with just what are the ramifications of this statement is what this movie, The Good Shepherd, is all about.
That its protagonist, Edward Wilson, can be ascribed as a somewhat composite character taken in type for what was loosely, at the time, the recruiting policy of a fledgling covert intelligence organization somewhat modeled after England’s MI-5, and that Yale’s Skull And Bones Society was commonly tapped as a source for its “youngest and brightest” may be an understatement. Yale’s own publication, in it’s issue of April 22, 2009, put it this way: “According to the book “Cloak and Gown” by the late Yale history professor Robin Winks, Yale’s connections with the CIA run deep. In the class of 1943 alone, at least 42 members entered intelligence work after graduation, and Winks writes that the OSS was so heavily populated with Yale graduates that members stationed in remote areas of Asia and Africa during World War II — Yalies and non-Yalies alike — would frequently end “a festive occasion” with a round of the Whiffenpoof Song.”….Yale Daily News, April 22, 2009
Robert de Niro’s accomplished direction well exploits this reality in presentation, going deep into the Eric Roth story with some embellishments of its own. Viewers are once drawn up on a new look at the Kennedy era and on the single most significant turning Point, The Bay of Pigs. Around this foreign policy debacle the film draws a most central focus, one that is a testament to the dangers of all groups given carte blanche for covert activities.
Out of the mouth of a presumed double-agent taken, comes the viewer’s first wake-up call of the “companies” tendency to exaggerate threat levels in US/Soviet relations to gather more domestic support. This, the single greatest evil behind all renegade operations, is expressed in much of the unanswered questions left us by so many of the events today that have led to the decline of the American way of life. This is not so difficult today to see as the last bastion to America’s strength, Wall Street, becomes challenged and the dollar’s value begins to wane on world markets.
Unlike other agents, Edward’s drive is unwavering in answering his duty, resorting eventually to the same ruthlessness that takes out his own mentor in the beginning. But his service is so elegantly expressed the agency makes rare exception when one near and dear to him is compromised…even when the result is catastrophic.
As he is moved to the duty to serve his country, so he is moved to the duty to marry a woman carrying his child although he loves another. Something Clover (the lovely Angelina Jolie) only finds out late in their marriage and then, only inadvertently. William Hurt plays Phillip Allen, Edward’s long-time immediate superior. The accomplished actor’s performance is convincing and the ill-fate of his character due to compromise well depicted. Sam Murach (Alec Baldwin) is Edward’s contact with the FBI. The manner and substance of the information they trade is interesting. Lovely Tammy Blanchard is Laura, Edward’s first and perhaps last love.
Leading man Matt Damon has little demand in his role in which to display the known attributes we know he possesses, the demeanor of Edward Wilson being so uni-dimensional. However his is a performance unflawed by any inconsistency.
The storyline is of high magnitude yet the importance is subtle, something rare in any Hollywood production. The winning aspect of this is not only due to being unique but serves the strategy behind the stoic aspects in the life of a devoted spy.
Settings, scene changes and camera work are highly adept. De Niro seems to have a gift for such things. Just as he has for respecting his viewer’s common sense perspective. A very well made movie.
Little offensive language (not in code,) some graphic love scenes but sparing in nudity and parent advised discretion. A great movie, highly, highly, highly recommended.