Actor Robert Deniro's first directorial effort since his directorial debut for 1993's "A Bronx Tale", "A Good Shepherd" stars Matt Damon as Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a CIA operative who found his way into the agency during its early years. The film opens shortly after the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and he's picked by higher-ups to try and root out a mole in the agency.
The movie then jumps around, watching as Wilson becomes part of Yale's famously secretive "Skull and Bones" society and becomes a member of the OSS (the agency that would eventually become the CIA.) He also meets Clover (Angelina Jolie) and gets her pregnant. Since she's the sister of one of the fellow Skull and Bones members, he doesn't hesistate to "do what is right" and marry her. As a result, a relationship he had with a young, hearing-impaired woman called Laura (Tammy Blanchard) - who he really did have feelings for - falls apart.
While dismayed at the marriage that he's fallen into, it's not long before he's called away. The film follows Wilson's career in the CIA as well as his attempts to try and live through a loveless marriage that includes a son who barely knows his father. The film certainly covers a lot of ground in the character's professional life and tries to develop a look at the character's personal life. Despite the time jumps, the film does a fine job of keeping the overstuffed story straight.
The issue is whether or not the story is interesting and the answer is, only occasionally. Obviously, operatives in the CIA are well-trained to be "ghosts", but when you're dealing with a film that's nearly three hours and the main character is cold, emotionless and flat (I was reminded of the scene in "Ocean's 11" when Brad Pitt's character tells Damon's how to con. "Don't shift your weight, look always at your mark but don't stare, be specific but not memorable. Don't use seven words when four will do."), it does have the effect of keeping the audience at arm's length throughout the long running time.
The supporting players liven up the film somewhat, especially Alec Baldwin, an actor who has the ability to made comedy vaguely menacing and give drama an air of dark comedy. John Tuturro and Blanchard also offer fine supporting efforts, although the home drama with Jolie's character never is developed enough to be very compelling. However, it's Damon's show to carry and the character is so stone-faced as to be dull. Damon's "Bourne" performances were somewhat subdued as well, but the actor maintained a slow-boil intensity throughout and, in the quietest moments always appeared to be studying the situation before his next move. Here, he simply appears completely withdrawn into himself in a performance that's just too subdued.
The film's visuals are exceptional, with gorgeous cinematography from Oscar winner Robert Richardson ("Snow Falling on Cedars", "Casino", "Nixon") and remarkable production design by Jeannine Claudia Oppewall ("Seabiscuit"). It appears as if no expense was spared when trying to accurately create an accurate look and feel to the film.
Still, despite superb visuals and some memorable supporting performances, "Good Shepherd" never manages enough momentum and the story isn't as compelling as the story of the early days of the CIA had the potential to be.
VIDEO: "Good Shepherd" is presented by Universal in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is satisfactory, but not more than that. Sharpness and detail are usually fine, although inconsistent at times, with some scenes looking soft. Flaws included some slight edge enhancement in a handful of scenes, as well as a few instances of minor artifacting in some of the darker scenes. No print flaws were spotted. Colors remained subdued throughout the show, but appeared accurately presented.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation was, as one might expect, fairly subdued. While some minor sound effects and ambience are heard from the surrounds, the majority of the film's audio remains up-front. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and full-sounding score.
EXTRAS: Only 16 minutes of deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts: "The Good Shepherd" offers a terrific cast and the story is potentially interesting, but Damon's performance isn't very engaging and the nearly 3-hour running time doesn't pass quickly. Those interested in the subject matter or the stars and want to see the film should rent first. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality, but minimal extras.
The Film C+