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GOOD SHEPHERD, THE

SYNOPSIS:
As an eager student at Yale in the late 1920s, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), is recruited to join the secret society, Skull and Bones, a breeding ground for leaders. Wilson's spotless reputation and sincere belief in American values render him a prime candidate for a career in intelligence, and he is soon recruited by the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during WWII. Edward's idealism is eroded by a growing suspicious nature, a necessity of the Cold War. Wilson becomes one of the Agency's key operatives, all the while combating his KGB counterpart (Oleg Stefan). However, his steely dedication to his country comes at an ever-increasing price. Not even his wife Clover (Angelina Jolie) or his beloved son (Eddie Redmayne) can divert Wilson from a path that will force him to sacrifice everything in pursuit of this job.

Review by Louise Keller:
He is meticulous, patient, observant and smart. He can be heartless, make callous decisions and never flinch as lives are ended, ruined or disillusioned. But the achilles heel of Matt Damon's idealistic CIA agent Edward Wilson is his uncompromising love for his son. It is credit to Damon that he brings humanity to Wilson, who is often an unlikeable character. He looks intense with the magnified lenses that make his eyes seem a little odd, and Damon shows us that Wilson, the master of the expressionless, is a complex mix of impartiality and compassion. Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd canvasses in considerable detail and with great conviction, a fictional account of the early days of the CIA. The topic is fascinating and the cast A grade, so more's the pity that the story becomes bogged down by its 160 minute length, too many characters and constant leapfrogging back and forth in time.

Wilson's loyalty to his son Edward Jnr (Eddie Redmayne) begins even before the child is born and his brief, lusty relationship with Angelina Jolie's Clover is a sharp contrast to the sweet and considerate interlude with Laura (Tammy Blanchard), the innocent deaf girl he meets at the library. Jolie is breathtakingly beautiful and her Clover (who reverts to her real name of Margaret) is a sad and empty creature. Blanchard is charming and it is her warmth that rings true emotionally. The way the agents talk in code and communicate is a surprise, as is the irony in their reinforcement of brotherhood, when each member is ready to betray the other in a heartbeat. Ever murder is not out of the question.

De Niro plays the General, a fitting role for the director of the piece, who orchestrates lives as he instigates commitment to love and protect country above all. There are deceptions and betrayals and when things get dirty, the tactics become sordid and heavy handed. Historic footage of President Kennedy and Fidel Castro is integrated into the mix as the temperature of the Cold War rises and reaches boiling point. We learn that friends can be enemies and enemies can be friends. A chilling realisation, when you know that no-one can be trusted.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The image that haunts me from The Good Shepherd is not one of Matt Damon in the lead role as Edward Wilson, the outwardly muted, seemingly emotionally stunted patriot who put his country ahead of all else, all others. Nor is it of his first love, the deaf and appealing Laura (Tammy Blanchard), or his shotgun wife Clover (Angelina Jolie). In a cast only Robert De Niro could assemble (eg Timothy Hutton is a tiny second cameo), the most memorable is Ukranian actor Oleg Stefan as KGB chief Stas 'Ulysses' Siyanko. It's his brooding, intense gaze, silently waiting for an answer from his adversary Wilson ... those clear blue, knowing eyes announcing a deep seated intelligence that convey the essence of a man who has feelings but can control them ruthlessly. His likeability makes him all the more fearsome, a magnet whose pull will kill you.

Indeed, it's the all star cast that engages, more than the storyline, which (for no apparent good reason) is told in time jumps back and forth from the Bay of Pigs fiasco in the early 60s to 1939, the 40s, 1925 then back to 1942 and so on. These jumps take us through Edward Wilson's life as De Niro patches together the portrait of the spy as a patriot. The Eric Roth screenplay introduces us to several characters who all play a role in the espionage racket and who ricochet off Wilson's character - or vice versa. De Niro wants to bring them all to life, but we are never sure which has meaning or significance and to whom or what, all of which flattens the film's dynamics.

The assured complexity of the film is only half successful as a result, including the central emotional throttle of father-son traumas. But it's still an engaging work, crafted with great care and attention to detail. The film wants to be taken seriously as cinema, an exploration of the human condition through the prism of history - and important, recent history at that, touching on some of the most acute issues of the past century. The tone is deliberate and earnest, the emotional colour is brown and the impact is melancholy. There are no cheap shots, no easy transitions to let us off the hook of the drama and the moral choices echo through Washington - and therefore the world - to this day. But for a film about the genesis of the CIA, it is singularly inactive.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

GOOD SHEPHERD, THE (M)
(US, 2006)

CAST: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Tammy Blanchard, Billy Crudup, Oleg Stefan, Robert De Niro, Eddie Redmayne, Keir Dullea, Michael Gambon, William Hurt, Joe Pesci, John Torturro, Timothy Hutton

PRODUCER: Robert De Niro, James G. Robinson, Jane Rosenthal

DIRECTOR: Robert De Niro

SCRIPT: Eric Roth

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson

EDITOR: Tariq Anwar

MUSIC: Bruce Fowler, Marcelo Zarvos

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jeannine Oppewall

RUNNING TIME: 160 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 15, 2007







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