THE GOOD SHEPHERD (U.S. / 2006)
One of the most undervalued American films of 2006, The Good Shepherd is a somber, meditative work which refracts the enigmatic internal politics of the Cold War CIA through the individual account of one of its primary operatives. A composite of actual -- and controversial -- agency officials, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) serves as our stoic, emotionally reserved protagonist. Like a few of his key counterparts, Wilson is initially seen mulling over the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961. He suspects a mole, a belief which gains some ground when a photograph and a scrambled audio reel come under his possession. The film then periodically flashbacks to major turning points in Wilsons life -- fathers death, initiation into Yales clandestine Skull and Bones, a haphazard marriage, the OSS (not mentioned by name) and then the CIA -- before exhibiting their compound effect on his personal and professional state.
Working from an ambitious and intelligent script by Eric Roth (Munich ), director Robert De Niro (A Bronx Tale ) ably demonstrates a keen sense of the indeterminate milieu and the residual repercussions on the emotional health of its beings. His commitment to the self-righteous Wilson, a character nearly unthinkable in American cinema today, is also noteworthy. In arguably his best performance till date, Damon is as precise and economical as the rest of the mise-en-scne (the film is shot by Oliver Stone-regular Robert Richardson), and hes well-supported by the likes of William Hurt (fellow operative), John Turturro (assistant), Angelina Jolie (wife), Michael Gambon (professor and spy), and De Niro himself, whose General Bill Sullivan is based on "Wild Bill" Donovan, the founder of the OSS. The Good Shepherd isnt perfect, but unlike more celebrated 2006 films as Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland, its motivations are pure and its politics uncompromising. The film treats its audience with dignity and class, and it deserves the same in return.
*THE GOOD SHEPHERD had its international premiere at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival (in-competition). A Silver Bear for "Outstanding Artistic Contribution" was awarded to the ensemble cast.
*The film will become available on DVD on April 3rd (Universal).