The Good Shepherd (4 stars)

(15) 166min

In 1977 a US Privacy Study Commission surmised that the real danger of the Central Intelligence Agency is ‘the gradual erosion of individual liberties through automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable.’ By this point the CIA and the unnamed secret cabals that preceded had been practicing the dark arts of counter intelligence and disinformation for almost half a century and the issue of infringement of homeland liberty had ceased to be an issue for them.

The true story of the CIA (or as true as can be ascertained) is a fascinating and deeply worrying one and here actor/director Robert De Niro and screenwriter Eric Roth (Munich, The Insider) attempt to tell it through the prism of one of its most powerful operatives - Edward Wilson (based on James Angleton, the head of counterintelligence at the CIA from 1954 to 1974). It’s a long but fascinating journey into the heart of white bread paranoia, fraternity house allegiances, private grief, patriotism and the bewildering self-importance of the chess game that is espionage.

De Niro and Roth keep things low key, steady and very adult, this is cinema that plays an impressive and unpatronising long game, reminiscent in parts of Alan J Pakula’s All The President’s Men, Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City or Coppola’s The Godfather series (Coppola exec produced this film). Considering that this is only De Niro’s second film in the big chair The Good Shepherd is a model of restraint and good storytelling. Shifting back and forth in time from the Cuban Missile Crisis to WWII and so on, the true horror of the CIA’s WASPy stronghold on modern America begins to unfold, you are left in no doubt that the road to hell is indeed paved with emotional disorder and fear.

Despite looking too young to play the older Wilson, Matt Damon does an exceptional job in a role that is defined by evasion and silence. While Angelina Jolie, Billy Crudup, William Hurt and Michael Gambon among others fill out a near faultless cast. On this evidence De Niro may soon be surpassing his old friend Martin Scorsese as a filmmaker, for this certainly has the reach and scope that the master’s last few features have so sorely lacked. Recommended.

The Good Shepherd

  • 4 stars
  • 2006
  • US
  • 2h 47min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Robert De Niro
  • Written by: Eric Roth
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, Timothy Hutton, Joe Pesci, John Turturro

De Niro attempts to tell the 'real' story of the CIA through the prism of operative Edward Wilson (Damon). Slipping back and forth in time, the true horror of the CIA's WASPy stonghold on modern America unfolds in a model of restraint and good storytelling.