Since I stayed home from work today, I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch a movie. I was delighted to see that The Good Shepherd was on the “movies on demand” channel, and I ordered it. I’d been eagerly anticipating this one since I first saw the commercials for it; I love any spy-related books or movies, so a movie about the early history of the Central Intelligence Agency is right up my alley.
But I had mixed feelings about it. And apparently I’m not the only one, because I went to Rotten Tomatoes, and the reviews there were pretty mixed, too. I think, for me, the good aspects where the plot/writing, and the bad aspect was the acting. It was extremely wooden; I’m tempted to point the main focus on Matt Damon, in the lead role as Edward Wilson, as being the most wooden, but I think that might just be because he had the most screen time. Most of the rest of the acting was also low key, to put it mildly. Then again, with the most screen time, Damon should have had ample opportunity to give some life to his character, and it didn’t end up with any. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Damon, usually. But, in this particular case, his character didn’t have any… well, any character.
Since many of the characters suffered the same treatment, I don’t think it was the actors’ fault, I think it was the director’s. But the result is the same: The movie ended up with a main character who had no characteristics.
But the good aspects were really good. I felt it was a very realistic portrayal of the origins of the agency. (It’s fictional, of course, they’re not claiming that they’re telling a true story. But it’s a realistic fictional story.) They told a complicated story, and told it well (aside from the acting, which I can’t get over). The movie didn’t glamourise the intelligence agency, the way that James Bond movies do, it gave a much more realistic interpretation, like John le Carré novels do. (I even saw one reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes compare this film to le Carré, although I personally think that le Carré’s works are much more interesting than The Good Shepherd.)
I should be giving this movie a clearly positive review, but because of the acting, and/or direction, I just can’t. If it had been performed just a bit differently, this could have been a brilliant movie. To sum up, I’ll steal a quote from Ella Taylor, from the L.A. Weekly:
It’s almost impossible to buy Wilson as a pioneer who helped shape one of the world’s most intricate and devious intelligence agencies, leaving us to wonder how the CIA could ever have gotten off the ground through the labors of such an utter stiff.