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The Good Shepherd

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But it’s Damon who may have the hardest task in “The Good Shepherd”, and he proves he’s up to the challenge with a performance that’s amazingly strong and subtle.


Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, Billy Crudup, Eddie Raymayne, Michael Gambon, Joe Pesci

“The Good Shepherd”, an epic look at the birth of modern American espionage directed by Robert De Niro, is easier to admire than enjoy. While that doesn’t make it any less of an achievement for De Niro, screenwriter Eric Roth and a star-studded cast headed by Matt Damon, it does make the film a tough sell.

After all, this isn’t a brisk, action-packed tale of cloak and dagger. It’s more a character study about people who have devoted their lives to covert activity…and an acknowledgement of what a life spent in the shadows can cost.

The focus of “The Good Shepherd” is Damon’s character Edward Wilson, reportedly based on real-life CIA official James Jesus Angleton. Wilson’s clandestine life of secrecy begins at Yale University when he’s recruited into the secret society Skull & Bones, whose ranks include some of the most powerful people in America.

The connections he makes in this organisation leads to a job in counter-intelligence in London during WWII, which in turns leads to a pivotal role in defending America’s interests when the Cold War heats up in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

While Wilson’s service to his country is viewed as invaluable by his superiors (led by De Niro’s character, who eventually founds the CIA), it drives an ever-widening wedge between himself and his wife (Angelina Jolie) and son (Eddie Redmayne).

Judging by “The Good Shepherd”’s sober, serious approach, De Niro has clearly looked to Francis Coppola’s first two “Godfather” movies for inspiration, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that.

What this film lacks, however, is an underlying energy that keeps the story surging forward – it rarely drags but the deliberate pacing does occasionally take its toll, especially considering its running time of almost three hours.

However, the director does show a terrific amount of confidence and control in presenting Roth’s sprawling script, given that this is only his second time behind the camera.

Perhaps not surprisingly, De Niro’s strongest work is with his actors, with his large and accomplished cast turning in uniformly strong work.

It should come as no shock that veterans like William Hurt, Alec Baldwin and Michael Gambon are excellent (and it would be criminal not to mention a great cameo from Joe Pesci, absent far too long from the screen), but young, lesser-known talents like Redmayne and Lee Pace (superbly smarmy as Wilson’s superior) are equally good.

The vibrant Jolie may seem miscast as Wilson’s neglected wife but she’s gifted enough to show the pain of a long, loveless marriage to an emotionally distant man.

But it’s Damon who may have the hardest task in “The Good Shepherd”, and he proves he’s up to the challenge with a performance that’s amazingly strong and subtle.

Underplaying can be a risky move but the payoff can be substantial, and that certainly proves to be the case here. Damon truly deserves to be recognised as an actor of great skill and versatility – his work in “The Good Shepherd” proves it without a doubt.

Rating :
Reviewer : Guy Davis

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About Caffeinated Clint

Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

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