The Good Shepherd
There's a huge problem with "The Good Shepherd," a film that tries desperately to follow the formation and operation of the Central Intelligence Agency from1939 to the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 by following the life of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), who becomes one of the agency's top intelligence experts.
First he's initiated into the Yale Skull and Bones society. He's then recruited to work in the OSS during World War II. Finally, he helps form the first CIA staff. The problem is that Matt Damon looks 18 when he's actually 18 and still looks 18 when he's supposed to be 40 in 1961. When director Robert De Niro introduces us to Wilson's teenage son, Edward Wilson, Jr. (Eddie Redmayne), it looks more like Redmayne fathered Damon than the other way around. Put as many age spots as you want on Damon's face, he still looks like he's a kid who needs his poopy diapers cleaned.
The way Damon plays Wilson, I thought for awhile this was a movie about the formation of the IRS, not the CIA. Wilson is so devoid of emotion that he's barely alive. De Niro introduces a guy who's performing in drag in a college play, learning poetry and falling in love with a deaf woman (Martina Gedeck), but who ultimately succumbs to a kind of personality disorder that seems to be linked to his choice of attire: a suit and those thick, black plastic glasses.
De Niro goes back and forth between the Bay of Pigs and Wilson's ascendance within the CIA, painting a portrait of a guy whose devotion to the cause takes precedence over everything else in his life. There's not much to grab on to for an audience looking for a sympathetic character, even when Wilson manages to nail, impregnate and ultimately marry Margaret Russell (Angelina Jolie). Should we side with the emotionless husband who disappears for years to work overseas or the slutty wife who seems genuinely surprised that when her husband returns, he's emotionally distant.
"The Good Shepherd" is a slog. Conventionally speaking, it's a spy movie in the same way that "My Dinner with Andre" is a food film. De Niro has made "The Godfather 3" of CIA films. Ultimately, the meaning of the film is tied to the sacrifices Wilson makes in his personal life and his inability to change the world he's made for himself and those close to him. Much like the CIA itself, the mission of the film -- to tear open the psychology of a devoted but boring agent -- drags it into places it ought not venture.
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