Wouldn't it be grand to get a film about the creation of the world's most covert organization? Uncover the true story to how that agency came to be and what prompted its creation? Then cast electric stars like Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, and Robert DeNiro. And why not let grizzled veteran DeNiro direct it? Sounds perfect, doesn't it? Well it isn't so much.
Basically, that's the premise of the new film, The Good Shepherd. The film follows the career of the very uptight Edward Wilson (Damon), who is recruited by an evolving new agency, the C.I.A., while he is a student at Yale University. Wilson has a one-night stand with his best friend's sister Clover (Angelina Jolie) and gets her pregnant. Wilson does the proper thing and marries Clover, but just after the marriage, he is sent overseas for the Second World War. Wilson begins to learn more and more about covert ops from the British during the heat of the War and develops a taste for it. He makes all sorts of contacts and falls deeper and deeper into the role of a covert operative. All this puts enormous strain on his family life, especially after he returns to America. He is a stranger in his house and his country, yet he is still a patriot. The web keeps getting tighter and tighter as the Cuban Missle Crisis comes, Wilson's son gets involved in the agency, and Wilson must uncover a mole.
There is a lot of interesting intrigue and story elements here, but the film feels overly long and disjointed. I had a lot of the same problems with this film as I had with DeNiro's directing debut with 1993's A Bronx Tale. At a running time of nearly three hours, I think The Good Shepherd would have been a lot more successful as an HBO mini-series where the journey could have been properly addressed, we could explore the character of Clover more, and flesh out a lot of the really interesting supporting characters like Billy Crudup's operative that Damon meets while abroad.
I really enjoyed the performances from Damon, Crudup, and William Hurt. Each actor does an amazing job playing a character that is one thing on the surface but something completely different below. Each character is very multi-layered and overly dynamic. I also really enjoyed supporting performances from Alec Baldwin, John Turturro, and Oleg Stefan.
As for Angelina Jolie, I felt her performance felt phoned in. She seems to sleep walk through a lot of her scenes where she isn't screaming at Damon. I never bought her heavily-neglected wife. Maybe it's the casting or maybe it was just her, but there was something definitely wrong with that part of the film.
The Good Shepherd is a film with very interesting subject matter, but unless you are heavily into this movie from the get go, you will quickly find yourself slipping through the deep dark cracks throughout the film. (3 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.