The Good Shepherd

Robert De Niro, directing for the first time since 1993's A Bronx Tale, has a grand ambition: to use one fictional character, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), to tell the story of the CIA from its post-World War II roots to the botched Bay of Pigs mission in Cuba in 1961. Talk about biting off more than you can comfortably masticate, even at two and a half hours. But you have to admire De Niro's moxie. He's mounted a handsome production (Robert Richardson is a camera god), opted for facts instead of spy-flick clichés and cast it with heavyweights. Besides Damon, whose im-plosive quiet evokes Al Pacino in The Godfather II, there's Angelina Jolie, wasted as his unhappy wife, and Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, John Turturro, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon and De Niro himself as various operatives. I could go on, which is the problem. The film is stuffed with undeveloped characters far worthier of screen time than Edward's domestic crises with his wife, deaf mistress (Tammy Blanchard) and resentful son (Eddie Redmayne). The film cuts back and forth from present to past, when Edward, as a 1939 Yale undergrad, is inducted into the secret Skull and Bones society and gets hooked on stealth. Shepherd wants to say something profound about the effect of a deceitful government on human values. But it's tough to slog through a movie that has no pulse.

From The Archives Issue 1016: December 28, 2006