The not so Good Shepherd
I had high expectations of "The Good Shepherd", it not only sounded like an intriguing story but it also featured an impressive cast including Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Michael Gambon, William Hurt and lead by Matt Damon. Not only that it was directed by and also stars Robert De Niro. But sadly I have to say I was less than impressed because for me "The Good Shepherd" ends up an overly long, laborious and frankly quite dull movie which failed to not only capture my attention but keep it.
After the debacle of the Bay of Pigs Intelligence Agent Edward Wilson (Matt Damon - The Departed) is assigned the task to discover who the leak is within the agency leading to Castro being prepared for the attack. At the same time through a series of flashbacks covering his childhood, his time in Yale and through every aspect of his life as he climbs the ladder of Intelligence work we learn about what made Wilson the icy emotionless character he became.
What "The Good Shepherd" attempts to be is a sprawling spy thriller which sadly for me is less than thrilling, suffering from its double narrative as it flicks between the past and the main setting of the 60s. It's a nice idea giving us a main storyline as the central character, Edward Wilson, tries to discover who the leak is following the Bay of Pigs disaster, whilst also delving into his past as he climbs the ladder in various intelligence agencies leading to the formation of the CIA. It even peppers events of international duplicity with a look at the personal life of Wilson, the various loves, his child all of which aims to build up this character.
Except it's all pretty dull because Wilson is essentially an emotionless, workmanlike, patriot who does his job and does it well. He's not an exiting James Bond like spy and justifiably so because "The Good Shepherd" is a fictitious amalgamation of events and characters. But it doesn't capture your attention because there is no real excitement, no real intrigue despite the main storyline being all about who the leak is. It almost feels like a character examination except the character isn't really exciting.
"The Good Shepherd" is not helped in that the actual main storyline surrounding various double crosses, shady characters and so on is in itself quite boring. There never feels like any urgency or sense of tension to make it exciting because it is trying to be realistic rather than fantasy. But in this case being real doesn't quite do it for me. Plus at nearly 3 hours long it meanders along switching between the two narratives, in not so much a confusing manner but one which ends up feeling a little cumbersome.
But "The Good Shepherd" has some good moments, those small insights into the world of intelligence, the clever codes and the way the agents examine every minute detail of a picture to work out where it is, whilst stripping away sounds from a tape to find further clues. It's probably for me the most fascinating element of "The Good Shepherd" and even all the more impressive considering there was no hi-tec computers to help them analyse the information, it was all hard graft and knowledge.
Whilst "The Good Shepherd" features a stunning list of stars including Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, Angelina Jolie and even Joe Pesci in his first movie in 8 years, they all pretty much end up in supporting roles. They all sort of appear for a few scenes, deliver their lines effectively then disappear again. If they are lucky they might appear again for another fleeting scene later on but never amount to anything more than effective supporting performances delivering under worked characters.
What this means is that "The Good Shepherd" is Matt Damon's movie, he is the central character of Edward Wilson whose life we follow pretty much in every single scene. It's a shame that his life to be frank is not exactly that exciting to follow, almost mundane despite being involved in international intelligence over many decades. Saying that Matt Damon does a very nice job of playing this character as being flat and ordinary, a patriot who does his job with almost without question. It's a believable performance and you do get a sense that Wilson is a man who is loyal and someone who knows what he is doing.
Whilst the double narrative ends up being quite boring "The Good Shepherd" is full of style. From the recreation of various eras through to camera angles, the way it is presented visually is impressive and that helps cover up what are some dull scenes.
What this all boils down to is that "The Good Shepherd" attempts to be a fascinating insight into the life of Edward Wilson as it traverses his career through to the set up of the CIA, whilst also delivering intrigue into the leak over the Bay of Pigs debacle. But because it continually tries to be realistic, resisting the temptation to deliver fake excitement or out of character action it ends up feeling quite boring and at nearly 3 hours long it struggles to keep your attention.