The Good Shepherd
Distributed by Universal Studios
by Ismael Manzano
A while back I saw a preview for a movie entitled the Good Shepherd. The preview promised intrigue and suspense with an underlying hint of danger and paranoia to boot. My interest was piqued, I had to admit, and so when the movie finally came to the theater, I was ready, willing and rushing to the local multiplex to watch it. This is my recount of the movie and my experience with it.
The Good Shepherd stars Matt Damon (The Bourne Identity) as Edward Wilson Sr., a poetry student and patriot who is given the unique opportunity to help protect his country by contributing to the formation of the Central Trade Agency which eventually becomes the C.I.A. Edwards’ recruitment into the world of government spies begins when he is a college student. He’s inducted into a secret fraternity ‘Skulls and Bones,’ and becomes a part of a powerful brotherhood with long-reaching ties.
One day, Sam Murach (Alec Baldwin, the Shadow, Malice, 30 Rock) an F.B.I. agent approaches Edwards and, in the vein of the Godfather, asks him to do his country a simple favor. The favor: to collect a list of members of a German sympathizing group led by his poetry mentor. Edwards accepts and, with his help, his mentor is unceremoniously drummed out of the university.
Throughout this, Edwards is involved with a deaf girl named Laura (Tammy Blanchard, Guiding Light) whom he loves but ends up cheating on with a more sexually eager Clover Russell (Angelina Jolie, Tombraider, Mr.& Mrs. Smith), an encounter that leaves her pregnant and him forced to leave Laura to be an honorable family man. It’s no surprise that when Edwards, unhappy with his life, is approached by General Bill Sullivan (Robert DeNiro, Goodfellas, Casino, Heat) with a proposal to further help his country, Edwards chooses to undertake a mission to go overseas to learn the Intelligence game from England to help America in the World War they are about to involve themselves in.
This six year endeavor keeps him separated from his family and makes him a stranger to his only son. He returns home to a loveless marriage, having seen death, caused death and avoided death, all in the name of protecting his country. Needless to say, things do not improve in his marriage or in his professional life, as General Bill Sullivan comes to Edwards again and asks him to create the C.I.A. to do in peace time what he’d done during war time. His decision to join the C.I.A. leads Edwards down a spiraling, slippery path of mistrust, deception and danger.
For over twenty years, Edwards’ life is the C.I.A. At the cost of his family, friends and even a relationship with his son, Edwards serves his country dutifully and without question. But when the Bay Of Pigs Invasion goes wrong, Edwards must sniff out the ‘stranger in their house,’ and the traitor in the organization.
Okay that’s the plot of the movie in a nutshell. The movie was fairly long, clocking in at just under three hours, which is quite a stretch of time for an action-packed movie, let alone a movie with hardly any action at all. Don't get me wrong, the movie was interesting, but there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary fluff that did nothing to further the plot, provide insight into the character or do anything but repeat what had already been established. I’m speaking mostly about the family sub-story of the movie. Edward Wilson was not a family man. He did not love his wife, resented his son’s birth and the marriage it forced him into and showed about as much emotions as a rock. That was clearly established right off the bat. It was not necessary to show scene after scene of him and his wife in uncomfortable situations, his son staring off into space—showing the same amount of personality as Edward—or him ominously talking on the phone while his family lived their lives. It was all just too redundant.
The interesting thing about the movie was the formation and development of the C.I.A. and I think DeNiro—the director—should have stuck to that point. And Edward himself—like almost everyone else in the movie minus Deniro’s character—was wholly unlikable, devoid of personality or just plain whacked. Example: In one scene, Clover—having just met Edward for the first time—goes on a hike through the woods with him, literally lifts up her skirt, pulls off his pants, sits on him and then, midway through the act, makes him tell her that he loves her before she’ll complete the act. And that’s how she got pregnant. Isn’t that a nice story to tell your kid about their conception? I would have rather not seen or known that because it stripped away what little remorse I might have had for her character at being trapped in a bad marriage.
I think the movie might have been better served if it was done in a documentary style fashion. While I liked the back and forth jumps between Edward as a young man to the present, I found that the story itself was riddled with too much extra stuff that just confused things. Also, that style of narrative-jumping was kind of wasted when you started getting to the point where the past met the present. At a couple of points they jumped from the beginning half of 1961 to the latter half of it, and it just felt unnecessary at that point.
Overall, I did find the movie interesting, but since they faded out all the color in the characters, it might as well have been a history channel special. At least that way I would have gotten all the useful and poignant information—assuming there is any truth at all to this story—without all the needless fluff. DeNiro should not have tried to build a story around this emotionally empty character and instead should have centered around the C.I.A. itself. Although I would understand how many people might enjoy the movie, so I wouldn't discourage anyone from watching it, but you won’t see it on my DVD rack anytime soon.
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