4/10
A Bloated, Boring, and unfortunately disappointing movie.
29 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I wanted to like it, I really did. I bought my ticket for The Good Shepard solely based on a few trailers I saw in the fall....Damon, DeNiro, Pesci, Jolie...spies, the CIA, THE COLD WAR!!!!...this had to be good, or so I thought. Unfortunately, in one of the worst editing jobs I've ever seen, DeNiro lets this movie meander into a dismal abyss where the viewer begins to foretell the scenes and even the conclusion well before they happen.

First off, I must clear up a clear advertising ploy performed by the production house. This is not a movie about the birth of the CIA, its a biopic about a fictional character named Edward Wilson (Damon), loosely based on the life of the real CIA founder James Jesus Angleton. The trailers which make you excited to see Damon, Pesci, DeNiro, and Jolie share the screen are a fraud. Pesci has about a 3-minute cameo as a mob boss, and DeNiro stumbles (figuratively and literally) through 3 or 4 scenes as an Army general who recruits Damon and then guides him as the growth of counter intelligence and the Cold War occur simultaneously. Jolie plays second fiddle to Damon the entire movie. She holds her own at times, but the script more or less requires her to crawl into the shell of a marriage and life that her husband Damon makes for her. Its not a poor acting performance, but we are so used to seeing Jolie take over movies, that its almost painful to watch her hide behind Damon.

Onto the film -- Damon is excellent, and he draws fine supporting roles out of John Turturro and Micheal Gambon. The acting is the only saving grace of this movie. Im sure positive reviewers will touch open Damon's ability to hold the screen for 3 hours, and I concur he gives a strong performance as a man who is perhaps misunderstood, perhaps sheltered within his own moral-ism, but ultimately --boring. The life he partially chooses and is partially forced to chose is one of a supposed "higher purpose" and patriotism. The birth of the CIA is manifested by Wilson's ability to choose this patriotic life, and remain true to it in the face of serious conflicting decisions related to his friends, family, and overall morality. Some may call it stoicism, but Damon's portrayal of Wilson, which is intentionally designed to be wooden and singularly devoted to his career, sinks this movie. Its not that its not believable, its that its just not interesting. Wilson's personality is so obvious that the plot never takes on any intrigue because Wilson never waivers from his objectives and thus the plot lines become very predictable.

The first 45 minutes take you through the Yale years, the impregnation of Jolie, and Damon's stint as an intelligence officer in Britain during WWII. So far so good, but already you can see the developing themes: Damon & Jolie = the fraud of a marriage; Damon and Gambon (who serves as a his mentor) = internal betrayal, and the choice between protecting those close to you and serving the interests of the United States government.

The scenes that dominate the middle of this movie are not fluid and failed to perk my interest in the plot. People are promoted, but the viewer does not know why, people move to the Congo, but the viewer does not know why, people become turncoats, but no reason is given for their betrayals, instead you accept them as fact, hope for it all to tie in, and are disappointed when answers either fail to emerge or are predictable when they do.

In the end, the movie is disconnected. There is nothing left to hang your hat on. No great espionage scenes, no cinematic contributions to the spy genre as one may have thought, and very little if any historically significant commentary on what we all know is a time period and subject matter that lends itself to compelling theater.

Within the development of the CIA you see the fact that no one trusts anyone, but you only see brief snippets of true betrayal, or worse yet, the betrayals you do see can be forecast 1 hour before they happen. DeNiro has a bad habit of introducing an obvious problem into the plot, covering the problem up with 45 minutes of filler, and then letting it resurface, -- so you say to yourself, I forgot about that, but I saw it coming. Its no way to make a successful movie.

So with the CIA development and spy stories lacking in all respects, the movie turns back to the family and beats this plot line down over and over again until you just want Jolie to throw herself out of a window, much like some other people in the film and save both herself and the viewers the pain of watching the family continually devolve. In the end some choices must be made, but any half-minded viewer knows what will happen long before it does. Sure you can argue that there are a few twists, but after almost three hours, I was to numbed by sheer boredom to give much credit to any final hour plot twists. This is a boring movie, directed poorly, and acted wonderfully. Save it for a night with the girlfriend or wife when you want to fall asleep in each other's arms at home cause if anything it will serve as a good sleeping agent.
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