Movie review: The Good Shepherd (2006)

The Good Shepherd is an engrossing movie despite its length—almost three hours—that uses the Bay of Pigs as a center point around which the movie unfolds. The movie is about the predecessor to the CIA and the birth of the CIA, and deals with ideas of duty to country and family.

Edward Wilson came from a privileged home, attended Yale, and moved in upper class circles—a poetry major rubbing shoulders with men of power. His own father had a promising powerful career, cut short by his own hand after failing to fulfill duty and betraying country.

Two fateful decisions seal the course of Edward’s life. He agreed to join the OSS at the start of World War II. In a sense, to paraphrase another movie, he was given the opportunity to join the promising field of covert operations at the ground floor. He answered the call to duty

He also let himself be seduced by a friend’s sister who was in search of a good husband. Their brief encounter led to her pregnancy. Edward literally leaves the woman he loves to answer the second call to duty. He marries Clover/Margaret.

Their son is born while Edward is stationed overseas before and during World War II. The war is where Edward perfects his craft of espionage. Quiet, careful, reflective, he seems to notice everything.

He returns home to his wife and kid when Edward Jr. is six years ago. He is offered a position in a new agency that is forming: the CIA. He takes it and his life of secrets and exile while back stateside continues.

His marriage continues to unravel, though it was never really raveled to begin with. The strain of strange hours and the secrets of life in the CIA do not help. His son grows up and joins the CIA, hoping to get close to his father and make him proud.

The movie occurs in 1961, when the Bay of Pigs happened, but flashes back to Edward’s childhood, college years, years in the OSS, and early years in the CIA. Through it all, he fulfills his duty to country and family (in that order).

The premise of the movie is that the Bay of Pigs failed because the Soviets and the Cubans knew the details of the attack. There was a leak. Somehow Edward receives a photo and tape of a woman speaking to a man, encouraging him to share secrets. Over the course of the movie, CIA tactics unearth bits and pieces of clues in the photo and tape. These bits and pieces of clues allow Edward to track down the apartment where the woman and man were in the photo. The identity of the man is a shock and Edward is forced to choose between the two duties that he has built his life on.

The Good Shepherd is full of outstanding actors: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie. The movie is solid and there were rumors of a sequel, but unfortunately, a sequel hasn’t been written.

One mark of a good movie, like a good book, is that it draws you into the subject matter and keeps you there long after you finished watching the movie or reading the book. The Good Shepherd is one of those movies.

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