Robert De Niro's second film as a director is vastly more ambitious than his sweet 1993 debut, A Bronx Tale. Bestriding continents and decades like a grumpy colossus, The Good Shepherd attempts to cram the entire history of the CIA into a single movie, albeit a very long one. The focus of this tale is the fictional Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a man whose dedication to spying for his country is gradually eating him alive.
We discover Wilson's history in flashback, recalled in dribs and drabs as he struggles to contain the fall-out from the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation in 1961. Recruited in the 1930s by way of a ludicrous but apparently accurate secret society, Wilson is quickly despatched to London to learn espionage from the Brits, led by Michael Gambon's lugubrious spymaster. Meanwhile, his new wife (Angelina Jolie, somewhat miscast) is left to fret in Washington and his son grows up fatherless. And so it goes for the next 30 years as Wilson, like a Government sponsored Michael Corleone, allows his profession to destroy his trust in his friends and his family.
"JUST PLAIN BORING"
Matt Damon has been set an almost impossible task here. Wilson, a profoundly secret man, never bats an eyelid as his life implodes, and Damon can't find a way to let us peek behind the mask. After three hours, we know little more about him than we did when we walked in. Matters are not helped by De Niro's direction, which is handsome but perhaps a little too measured for its own good. To be perfectly honest, The Good Shepherd is just plain boring most of the time. Intelligent, yes, politically astute, stuffed to the gills with A-list acting talent (overstuffed in fact, there are cameos a go-go), but too frozen with a sense of its own seriousness to grip.
The Good Shepherd is released in UK cinemas on Friday 23rd February 2007.