Jan 282007

The Good ShepherdThe tumultuous early history of the Central Intelligence Agency is viewed through the prism of one man’s life.

Directed by
Robert De Niro

Drama, Thriller

Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Tammy Blanchard, Billy Crudup, Robert De Niro, Keir Dullea, Michael Gambon, Martina Gedeck, William Hurt, Timothy Hutton, Mark Ivanir, Gabriel Macht, Lee Pace, Joe Pesci

Lay had a school related activity Saturday, so I went to see this movie on my own. He wasn’t too keene on seeing the movie anyway, but I was, and I did enjoy it.

The movie jumps back and forth in time periods. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get a TV image of President Kennedy in the Cuban Missle Crisis to know that we’ve suddenly entered the time-warp from the 1940s to 1961. Other times, there is no such clue. The characters don’t even seem to change in age as we go back and forth.

The scope of the film, while seeming grand at first as it sweeps quarter century, turns out to be rather microcosmic with a series of vignettes instead of a unified story line. The focus remains mainly on the effect of the cloak and dagger on one man, Edward Wilson Sr., and his wife and son and the conflict of loyalties to country and family. Since the account is fictionalized history, we’re not sure what to accept as biography and history as we watch the homo-erotic, cross-dressing elite WASPy Yale camaraderie turn into boys playing with big toys and geopolitics. Wilson, apparently patterned after James Jesus Angleton, is bred to elitism and public service from childhood and matriculates to Yale in the late 1930s to make the necessary career connections.

The good shepherd lays down his life for his flock, according to a parable of Jesus. After Allies win World War II, wartime intelligence, among them the fictional Wilson and his classmates, continue their work as shepherds to keep the Free World free, or at least a reasonable facsimile.

“Central Intelligence Agency” consumes their lives as did their Yale secret society “Skull and Bones,” which reportedly has the loyalties of Presidents Bush 41 and 43 and Sen. John Kerry, among other government and business leaders. Why isn’t “the” used with the name of the agency? We’re told it is because “the” isn’t used for God either.

The film is nonetheless interesting for its strong acting by the studied taciturnity of Matt Damon and the effete professor Michael Gambon with a secret life. The ethnic portrayals add some color to the white bread. Director Robert DeNiro mugs in a role reminiscent of “Wild Bill” Donovan, a lone Catholic wary of recruiting others for agency. Joe Pesci is, what else?, the Italian mobster in Florida. John Tuturro is the street-smart Italian army sergeant Ray Brocco, who follows Wilson to the CIA to bruise his knuckles as an interrogator. Angela Jolie transforms from a lusty patrician daughter looking for husband material among her brother’s Yalie classmates to a long-suffering wife in pearls. Alec Baldwin is the ubiquitous G-man in trench-cost.

There are a number of lesser-known actors in the ensemble who were superb like Laura (Tammy Blanchard), the deaf woman at Yale who is the only one who brings out love from Edward Wilson Sr. Mark Ivanir and John Sessions as dueling defectors were especially memorable as was Oleg Stefan as Wilson’s Soviet counterpart.

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