“The Good Shepherd”, showing at Deira City Center Mall....
I was hungry when I walked into this two and a half hours long movie, and no less so when I walked out. Despite this, I found it totally engrossing. A life of suppressed emotion in the service of what became the CIA, leads to Edwards’ (Matt Damon) home life becoming his greatest security liability as his son’s careless pillow talk blows the gaff on the planned Bay of Pigs invasion, and his father appears to approve of the erasure of his son’s black fiancée just hours before their wedding. Sounds far fetched; absurd even? On paper I guess, but thoroughly watchable all the same. The film is essentially an exploration of how an institution lacking the democratic oversight that was originally desired by congress and supposedly desired by its creators becomes a law unto itself as the US emerges from WWII into an apparent international struggle with the USSR. Other unwieldy security institutions such as the FBI are on hand to ease Edwards’ particular dilemma, however, as he is able to benefit from inter-agency rivalry and the corruption of his boss, take over CIA, and in the process seemingly neutralize the enquiry into who fouled up the Cuba operation. Or at least this is how it seemed, as in the process of Edwards taking over the Agency, and his KGB equivalent deciding to do him the seemingly redeemable favour of eliminating his soon to be daughter in law, suddenly the very domestic reasons for the greatest US intelligence blunders until, well, Iraq, are irrelevant. This shift of events proved a little to fast for me, but would not I think leave most viewers unsatisfied, more interested perhaps in piecing things together after the credits roll.
There are a number of striking portrayals in the course of this Robert De Niro-directed film (based on an Eric Roth novel). He also stars as the US's overseas intelligence service's irascible founder with both period racism and integrity, as opposed to Edwards, who is portrayed as having the former without the latter. Practically anybody who is anybody is in this film, including Angelina Jollie, who is actually quite good as Damon’s wife, if a tad too distracting to look at. Michael Gambon proves a suitably sinister UK agent (fronting it as a Nazi English don), as does Billy Crudup, both of whom are gay, or the academic character is, and Crudup’s character appears to be. Not a security risk with which any of the Americans are afflicted of course. However, while Gambon meets a shocking but necessary end, given his compromisable sexual predilections – there was a war on after all – Edwards’ failings as a father led a love-starved son to seek solace with a woman the other side of the world who turned out to be on the Soviet payroll but somehow falls in love with her prey. The price of covering this up leads Edwards, as Gambon’s character predicts, to "lose his soul". He doesn’t have the “cowardice” of his father, a former naval secretary in Roosevelt's wartime administration, who killed himself when Edwards was but a boy, providing the context for an emotional shutdown that his own son could not manage. When the motivations for Edwards’ father killing himself are explained as his son faces the destruction of his career, we wonder if the son will take the same exit. The prospect actually seems honourable, not cowardly, on the part of a man who had never loved his wife and whose son was surely destined to hate him for the fate that was to befall his wife to be.