This is not a film you want to watch after a short night’s sleep. It is very long and incredibly slow-moving (perhaps slow-paced says it better) and some might indeed call it a snorefest. But there was something that drew me in and kept me engaged from start to finish. I have always had a soft spot for films which show how a man is drawn into a life and world he never wanted and can’t seem to find his way out (thus my love for the film noir genre). In this case, the protagonist in the film, played fairly well by Matt Damon (though all he had to do for most of the film was play a dull soft-spoken bureaucrat), is drawn into the world of espionage. We see his life in flashbacks and see how he started his adult life with much more emotion and promise before the world of espionage sucked the life out of him.
The Good Shepherd felt like something based on a novel by John Le Carre or even Graham Greene and that's a major compliment. Eric Roth’s script is very intelligent and subtle and I’ll take intelligence and subtlety over action anytime. The film is also peppered with great actors like Michael Gambon and William Hurt and includes a strong appearance by its director, Robert De Niro. The problem is that most of the actors are as soft-spoken and methodical as Damon and the entire film suffers from a general lack of emotion. Maybe the world of the CIA is an emotionless world – how else do you deal with all the lies, the betrayal and all the devious games played with the enemy – but it does make it hard to get emotionally drawn into the film or to any of its characters. So when I began my review by saying I was drawn in, I meant intellectually rather than emotionally. And this lack of emotional connection is my big complaint with the film. It seemed to want to be an epic, like Once Upon a Time in America, but the deliberate pacing worked against this and left me too distant.
Still, there are a number of themes to chew on about how our childhood traumas and mistakes affect us later in life and how our well-meaning decisions can lead us down the wrong path if our priorities aren’t clear. And then there's the fact that this is based somewhat on a true story and a very real CIA, shown to have on its wall the incredibly ironic statement: "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free". This was a thoughtful fascinating film and gets a solid mug up from me. ***+