If you're the kind of person who's always been fascinated by the workings of the CIA and presumed the job of an agent with an intelligence network to be the most glamorous post attainable then 'The Good Shepherd' probably isn't for you, unless you want a reality check.
The movie follows the early workings of the CIA from the perspective of one of its co-founders and agents, Edward Wilson (Damon) – a cold but efficient servant to the agency. From his initiation into the Skull and Bones Society to his major missions for the CIA during the height of the Cold War, we follow Wilson's life as a precise and unfeeling master of intelligence and ever loyal servant to his country. Outside of this there is little of interest about Wilson. He is a stranger to his wife (Jolie) and his son (Redmayne), and something of an enigma to even the people who call him a friend.
This film is less about the drama and suspense that is so often associated with the CIA and more about the day-to-day drudgery that kept the engines of the machine oiled and helped the agency develop into the power that it is today. And since the film is not even pacy, it requires both patience and work to stick with it to its dreary close.
Damon does cold and robotic well – convincingly giving off the air of a man who is devoted to his country at the expense of all else in his life and the lives of those around him. But the character he plays is never engaging enough to inspire either respect or pity and you're left feeling a bit empty after the whole saga has played out.
Plenty about this movie doesn't work, not least the fact that Damon's character doesn’t age a day in the course of the film (not even a grey hair), while his wife becomes wrinkly and weary-looking and his son grows from a toddler into a man. The failure to age the character convincingly, for whatever reason, makes the jumpy timeline even more difficult to follow and distracts further in an already tediously slow-moving movie.
What De Niro's labour of love 'The Good Shepherd' does show is that 'the' CIA is dull as dishwater beneath the mystery and intrigue that surrounds it. Worthy of a film that lasts almost three hours? Not this time anyway.