More in-depth film festival coverage than any other website!
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.54%
Worth A Look45.61%
Average: 22.81%
Pretty Bad: 7.02%
Total Crap: 7.02%

5 reviews, 27 user ratings

Latest Reviews

Everybody Knows by Jay Seaver

Alita: Battle Angel by Peter Sobczynski

Integrity by Jay Seaver

Happy Death Day 2U by Peter Sobczynski

Arctic by Jay Seaver

Punk Samurai Slash Down by Jay Seaver

Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot, The by Rob Gonsalves

High Flying Bird by Peter Sobczynski

Tito and the Birds by Peter Sobczynski

Lego Movie 2, The by Peter Sobczynski

subscribe to this feed

Good Shepherd, The
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Erik Childress

"DeNiro Clearly Was A Good Student Over The Years"
5 stars

Many films have tried to give us a taste of the inner workings of the CIA. Sometimes portrayed as the heroes, other instances the know-all villains; two sides of the same coin that can land up or down at the persuasion of a light breeze. They are the original men-in-black with their hats and horned-rim glasses doing the duty of a grateful nation never clued in to what precisely they should be grateful for. An agent speaks so little about what they do, so when one decides to spill the beans as Fletcher Prouty did for Oliver Stone’s JFK, we should loan an extra set of ears to hear all the information. Albeit it’s not Stone who has brought us to the beginnings of this organization, but Robert DeNiro stepping into the director’s chair for just a second time. An epic drama approaching three hours may not seem suited for such a sophomore effort, but when you think back to the masters DeNiro studied under early in his career where a young Vito Corleone paved the way for another classic epic, it’s clear after watching The Good Shepherd that some of that tutelage has rubbed off accordingly in all the right places.

Just before England and France joined the fight against Germany in WWII, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) was a promising student at Yale. His father’s alumni association gets him an invitation to join the infamous Skull-and-Bones fraternity (not-so-infamously made into the feature The Skulls) where secrets are essential and kings have been made – remaining loyal to their brothers. Edward becomes acquainted with Richard Hayes (Lee Pace), perhaps based on Richard Helms who decades later would become a key figure of Central Intelligence, but is now a crooked little cuss whose distrustful smile is one Edward is careful to avoid. A friendship with an poetry professor (Michael Gambon) gets him an unexpected visit from the FBI’s Sam Murach (Alec Baldwin) who informs Edward of his Nazi affiliations and gives him his first chance to play cloak-and-dagger by getting the names of those in another secret group.

His successful nab-and-copy operation attracts another covert liaison in General “Wild” Bill Sullivan (Robert DeNiro) who is recruiting trustful patriots to assist the war effort in Europe by means of propaganda and mining useful contacts from the other sides to serve our plans for a big bomb or two. So ensconced in his work, Edward is literally not there to see the first five years of his son’s development. The shotgun wedding which brought him and Clover (Angelina Jolie) together had them at an emotional distance from the beginning, so when he returns their comfort level is in separate beds. This twenty-plus year period depicted in the film leads up to the failings of the Bay of Pigs invasion; an event which cast a bad light on Kennedy’s presidency and would have him promising to splinter the CIA into the infamous “thousand pieces.”

How anyone can consisely penetrate three decades of operational beginnings and undertows in a task that seemed destined for the sort of sprawling undertaking of a Ken Burns would have been anyone’s guess if DeNiro and screenwriter Eric Roth didn’t pull it off. The nature of secrets and betrayals is to establish a landscape of increasing paranoia amongst the protagonists unsure if they’re becoming just another expendable piece on the playing field. By all accounts, The Good Shepherd could have gone that route and created a thriller of asthmatic consequences, except DeNiro and Roth take a subdued approach that reaches for a quieter, chilling subsidy on the price of being an unquestioning patriot.

If America is a set of traditions to be handed down from father-to-son and generations to come, Edward must come to accept that those traditions must be preserved at all costs. When he’s given the option of deciding one contact’s fate (one he’s actually decided upon already once), he’s unprepared to go the extra mile but is taught on the scene by the mark himself what true sacrifice really is. It’s a powerful lesson for Edward who doesn’t think twice about picking up the phone the next time he’s deceived or the third time when the defacto America he’s grown to love has done wrong, but whom he will protect at all costs.

Working without the safety net of a specific source material, Eric Roth carefully interweaves us through historical incidents, dirty dealings on both sides and even the tortuous quest for the truth in a business of lies. From the very beginning, Roth is slyly playing games with the language, extorting double-speak amongst the chief intelligence players so we can never be sure when a man out by the pool means precisely that. He treats the audience with the same intelligence, never lingering on key words or informing us on precisely what Edward’s operations entail. When Edward briefly visits a character played by Joe Pesci, it’s almost a throwaway scene for those not connecting the long-rumored CIA ties to the Mafia during Castro’s rise. It’s an inspired casting choice by DeNiro too since Pesci was the manic whistle blower who directly revealed that information in JFK. By avoiding the urge to nudge viewers with dot-connecting flashbacks, DeNiro places his own trust in Roth and us to abridge the past with the present and allow a guttural reaction to Edward’s unwavering quest to do the right thing for family and country; which he sees as the same.

Damon’s performance initially recalls his work in The Talented Mr. Ripley; the shy, but eager, ball of menace with a questionable sexuality. But just as Edwards settles into his role, Damon’s work takes on the ethereal channeling of Hackman’s Harry Caul in The Conversation. The glasses and quiet demeanor in the face of escalating peril is no accident since The Good Shepherd unapologetically embroils itself in the atmosphere of dramatic thrillers from the Watergate era encased within the shell of Coppola’s Godfather saga. The different factions of KGB operators, defectors and trusted crew members not above taking a little action on the side could almost run parallel with DeNiro’s entry into Mario Puzo’s world where the protagonist seeks out a traitor in his midst during a revolving timeframe. Every frame is viewed through Damon’s eyes and he’s due an extraordinary amount of credit for keeping the secrets of what makes him tick even from us. It’s his show from start to finish, but the cast is impressive up-and-down from Gambon’s mentor and through Baldwin, John Turturro and Billy Crudup.

Even the most impatient of viewers should be caught in some strand of the web, unsure of how the Bay of Pigs fiasco fits into the events of the past. Doomed to repeat are we, left in the dark of a cold war being fought everyday across the world. Unlike Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana, Eric Roth as he’s done with equally masterful keystrokes for The Insider and Munich, handles the juggling storylines and thematic complexities without burying us in a text of incomprehensible jargon. You may not feel a whole lot for these characters, but in a business where sympathies can get you blacklisted or killed, maybe emotion is one luxury left silent, as represented by the impaired love of Edward’s life – another soul left behind in his determination to do right by his fellow man (or woman.) The Good Shepherd is drama at its best, a complex meditation on the freedoms we take for granted and proof that just a little information about how we maintain them is way too much.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 12/22/06 16:29:46
[printer] printer-friendly format  

User Comments

9/22/17 morris campbell boring 1 stars
1/08/09 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
7/25/08 mr.mike Good, save for the America hater pleasing interrogation scene. 4 stars
4/29/08 mb Interesting 3 stars
3/01/08 Dave This film needs a major makeover...don't bother to see it. 2 stars
11/27/07 Heywood Jablowme booooring. too long, too slow. 2 stars
8/17/07 P aul Benning A great movie - thought provoking and interesting! 5 stars
8/10/07 p wats awesome film best in the casting never seen anything better.. thanks 5 stars
6/26/07 Taylor Fladgate C'mon...move it along, I'm falling asleep here! What a great cast though. 3 stars
6/13/07 R.W. Welch Keyed a shade low; still an intriguing look at Spookville. 4 stars
5/15/07 Tracey Chambers get to the point already before I open a vein 2 stars
5/12/07 Indrid Cold Yeah it's smart, well acted, etc. It's also excruciatingly dreary and boring. 3 stars
4/30/07 Monday Morning Hey De Niro, stick to acting or learn to edit. TV shows do this better in an hour. 3 stars
4/16/07 ad a bit lengthy but in some ways better than the departed 4 stars
4/08/07 fools♫gold As unrate-able as "Limbo" and/or "Undertow" ... Forget my rating: see it. 4 stars
4/06/07 Phil M. Aficionado Peter Sobczynski's review is right on the money. A film worth seeing overall 4 stars
3/07/07 BertRito A complete mess. A film about spies without any intrigue. Watch The Departed again instead. 1 stars
3/01/07 MP Bartley Damon is superb and such ambition from DeNiro is laudable...but I just didn't care about it 3 stars
1/13/07 Koitus Exactly WHY was the J. Pesci needed?!? Too long; questionable underlying plot, too. 3 stars
1/02/07 Zaw Complicated, some parts drags on too long. Just get the damn point across! 2 stars
1/02/07 Jonathan Dolnier Overrated and convoluted but not a bad movie. 3 stars
1/02/07 Ken S I have seen it 3 times. A superb movie. Not a beer and pretzels film. Highly intellectual. 5 stars
1/01/07 Myra C Good acting, plot confusing at times. 4 stars
12/28/06 Dylan Stewart Kubrik on ludes. Terrible movie. 1 stars
12/28/06 Agent Sands De Niro is possibly one of the finest directors of the past half century. 5 stars
12/25/06 Sig Alman Good See the Movie 4 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  22-Dec-2006 (R)
  DVD: 03-Apr-2007



Directed by
  Robert De Niro

Written by
  Eric Roth

  Matt Damon
  Angelina Jolie
  William Hurt
  John Turturro
  Robert De Niro
  Alec Baldwin

Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About Australia's Largest Movie Review Database.
Privacy Policy | HBS Inc. | |   

All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast