The Good Shepherd Robert De Niro

The Good Shepherd examines a fascinating time in American foreign policy, one when the intelligence community that rallied around the American war effort against the Nazis morphed into the peacetime intelligence service that would become the C.I.A. It centres on Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), a stoic academic who puts his loyalties to secret organisations first, God second and family third. That’s bad luck for his young wife Clover (a woefully miscast Angelina Jolie), who’s left at home to raise their son while Wilson does... well, who knows what he’s really doing? There are mysterious connections with Russian spies and conspiracy theories about moles within the burgeoning organisation but Wilson seems to spend most of his time behind a desk. The film bounces between the Cuban Missile Crisis, a search for a potential C.I.A. leak (in a nod to The Conversation) and following Wilson from Yale to super-spy. Along the way, he gets seduced by Clover, pledges loyalty to General Bill Sullivan (director De Niro in a small role) and sits behind his desk some more. This wouldn’t be so dreadfully dull if Wilson wasn’t so stoic and if the film’s running time didn’t near three hours. While De Niro shows great respect and admiration for the actors involved in this, only the second feature he’s directed, he needs to be more cutthroat about his vision as a director. He simply can’t say no: not to more scenes of Jolie as the put-upon wife, to more scenes of Wilson’s poetry classes at Yale, to more Russian spy drama. But by taking every side road, the film’s forward momentum is severely curtailed, and what gets lost in the muddle is the crucial sense of Wilson as an actual spy. When, near the end of the film, he’s described as "the heart and soul of the C.I.A.,” the viewer can’t help but wonder when he did any actual espionage. Certainly not in this film. That the only extra is another 16 minutes of deleted scenes (really, there was more?) is disappointing, but I can’t say that I was dying for a three-hour commentary appreciating Jolie’s glowing, fully modern woman trapped in a ’50s period film. A disappointing waste of the gathered talent, especially trapped on such a slow boat to nowhere. (Universal)