Edward Wilson: Matt Damon
Margaret "Clover" Russell: Angelina Jolie
Arch Cummings: Billy Crudup
Gen. Bill Sullivan Robert De Niro
Laura: Tammy Blanchard
Ray Brocco: John Turturro
Philip Allen: William Hurt
Valentin Mironov: John Sessions
Ulysses: Oleg Stefan
Sam Murach: Alec Baldwin
Edward Wilson, Jr.: Eddie Redmayne
Sen. Russell: Keir Dullea
Dr. Fredericks: Michael Gambon
Joseph Palmi: Joe Pesci
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Robert De Niro and written by Eric Roth.
Running time: 168 minutes.
Rated R some violence, sexuality and language.
Release Date: December 22, 2006
Review Date: December 25, 2006
"Edward Wilson believed in America, and he would sacrifice everything he loved to protect it." This is written on the poster of The Good Shepherd, and essentially sums up the entire film. We follow Wilson's (Damon) life from 1939 to 1961 as he goes from a frat boy with some semblance of a personality to a humorless stiff with nothing to do but speak only when spoken to and trust no one - unless he trusts someone and it ends up being someone he shouldn't trust. Sound a little too drawn out? It is. And so was this movie.
I'm still not entirely sure what the point of The Good Shepherd was. Unlike your simple three act project, this film simply meanders around for a solid two hours before beginning to come close to some "shocking" conclusion that I wasn't aware was being built up. Edward Wilson is the world's worst husband and father because he puts his job above everything else in his life, except for maybe eating.
And what is Wilson's job? Well, it is assigned very carefully by General Sullivan (De Niro) and is in the best interest of our nation. It involves Wilson going overseas for five years to sit at a very large desk, walk through very secret places, and speak in very serious and well crafted sentences. Being said in these sentences, as I can best surmise, is little more than "Trust no one" and "No one can be trusted". Oh yeah, and America is great and must be protected from these people who cannot be trusted.
Sprinkled in the midst of all this is the sham of a marriage that Wilson belongs to, which was the result of a drunken fling with a girl named Clover (Jolie). She throws herself onto the social midget, Wilson, practically begging to be impregnated. So should she really have no one but herself to blame when the marriage fails because of Wilson's commitment to his job? (He doesn't even meet his only son until he's reached the age of five.) Does she really have the right to get upset when she finds out he's cheated on her, even though she's admitted to doing the same? Who knows? Who cares? Angelina Jolie looks as elegant as ever, but she, as most everyone in this film, serves as little more than window dressing.
Even with its all-star cast, The Good Shepherd belongs to Matt Damon and solely Matt Damon. This is fine, as he pulls off the performance very convincingly, as do the other more minor actors in the film. It is very well cast. However, when the character that Damon is playing is so dreadfully boring, emotionless, and without feeling, it's a tough task to stay awake, let alone sympathize. I seriously began to get a cramp in my backside from sitting in the theater for what felt like twelve hours.
I suppose when you have a movie that's entirely focused on such a dull character, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the film itself is about as exciting as watching a wooden shelf collect dust. Does that serve as an excuse? I doubt it. No slight on any of the actors involved or in De Niro's directing. Everything looks authentic and these are "all-star" actors for a reason. But this film would serve as proof that even the most talented of ensembles can't do much without a script that gives them much to do.
Just because a cast and a trailer say "Oscar", that doesn't mean a movie is good. The Good Shepherd is really only good in title. Perhaps instead of what is actually written on the poster for this film, Universal would have been better served to distribute posters saying, "Bring a pillow and blanket. You're going to need it."
** (out of ****)