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THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Tammy Blanchard, Billy Crudup, Keir Dullea, Martina Gedeck, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Lee Pace, Eddie Redmayne, John Sessions, Oleg Stefan, John Turturro, Robert De Niro
Director: Robert De Niro
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 168 Minutes
Release Date: April 3, 2007

ďI remember a senator once asked me when we talk about CIA, why we never use the word Ďtheí in front of it. And I asked him, do you put the word  'the' in front of God?Ē

Film ****

There have been so many movies depicted about the CIA, from Three Days of the Condor to Spy Game, that would it ever be possible for another film to be as enthralling and shed some new light on the secret agency? The answer is yes, as Robert De Niroís The Good Shepherd arrives as the single best film to date about the CIA. This is the first film to literally take you behind the scenes of the most covert agency to ever be established.

Whatís most fascinating about the film is that it isnít adapted from any source material. The screenplay by Eric Roth (Munich) is entirely original. And even though this is a purely fictionalized account of the CIA, real life events such as the Bay of Pigs are included to add a level of authenticity to the film. In the end, what you get is a depiction of the CIA that, I am led to believe, is as real and intriguing as it gets.

The story is told mainly in flashback. Opening in on the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961, we are introduced to Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), who is one of the very few men who know a lot about the very covert operation. He gets word of a supposed leak that came from someone at a high level. He soon receives a grainy photograph and an audio recording, which contain the voice of the traitor.

As this story unfolds, we are then taken thirty years back to discover how Wilson ascended to such levels of power. While attending Yale, he joins a secret skulls society. Around this same time, he begins a relationship with a deaf woman (Tammy Blanchard), while at the same time meeting the beautiful Clover (Angelina Jolie), whom he gets pregnant and is then forced to marry as a result.

Wilsonís determination to protect his country begins with a position at an overseas post for the Offices of Strategic Services. His work eventually catches the attention of General Sullivan (Robert De Niro), who is looking to create an intelligent service in the United States, the first one of its kind, and is interested in Wilson being one of the first recruits.

If youíve ever wondered what itís like to be a CIA agent, The Good Shepherd will definitely give you an idea, and then some. We are in Wilsonís shoes from beginning to end, through every double dealing and stressful events. For thirty years, Wilsonís devotion to patriotism is what keeps driving him, after numerous sacrifices are made. The most startling sacrifice he makes comes near the end of the film, in a moment that will make your jaw hit the floor.

And as a thriller, this as epic and intelligent as it gets. One review labeled it as The Godfather of CIA movies. I couldnít have said it better myself, because like Michael Corleone, the character of Edward Wilson is seduced into a grim underworld which eventually consumes his soul. Wilson, while not an entirely likeable character, is a great focal point of the story and Matt Damon delivers a terrific tour de force in the role.

Despite the filmís near-three hour running time, there is never a boring moment. It isnít an action packed movie, but one that fans of espionage thrillers will have a ball with. The pacing is one of the filmís greatest strengths as it delivers in scene after scene. And although I never saw Robert De Niroís previous directorial effort, 1993ís A Bronx Tale, this film has assured me that his directorial skills equally match his brilliance as an actor.

The Good Shepherd is as gripping and mesmerizing as any other film youíll ever find on the CIA. The star-studded cast along with Robert De Niroís superb directing blend to make this a canít miss affair, as well as one of 2006ís very best films.

Video ****

Universal boasts a tremendous looking presentation with this anamorphic presentation. De Niro, along with brilliant cinematographer Robert Richardson, strike many outstanding images in the film, and the picture quality resonates beautifully from beginning to end. Both bright and dark lit shots turn out terrifically, and colors are a big plus as well. Extremely well done in all areas.

Audio ***1/2

Though mainly a dialogue driven piece, the 5.1 mix serves as a very grand audio presentation. Rear channels are put to effective use, and dialogue delivery as well as music playback are heard in top-notch form.

Features *1/2

The only feature included is 16 minutes of Deleted Scenes. Hopefully, a Collectorís Edition will be released somewhere down the road.

Summary:

The Good Shepherd is powerful and ultimately haunting in its depiction of the CIA. No other film has been this far in depth concerning the most powerful and covert agency in existence. Itís brilliant storytelling at itís absolute best!

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