In the Dark

Astray From the Fold

The Good Shepherd
Produced and distributed by Universal Pictures
Directed by Robert De Niro
Screenplay by Eric Roth

Call me slow, but I had to see The Good Shepherd twice to figure out what was going on.  Truth to tell, I’m still not entirely sure what this dour, 167-minute CIA drama wants to say.  Its elliptical, time-shuttling presentation purports to be an account of the founding and growth of the Central Intelligence Agency as a WASP redoubt seen through the eyes of a fictional operative, one Edward Wilson (played by Matt Damon doing a locked-jaw impression of WASP rectitude).

To tell their story, screenwriter Eric Roth and director Robert De Niro have devised a narrative that holds its secrets almost as closely as the boys at Langley clutch theirs.  The film doles out gen on a stingy need-to-know basis that rarely gives viewers what they need to know.  Why Roth and De Niro thought such stealth necessary is puzzling.  Maybe their Byzantine plot and hefty lacunae constitute an exercise in form following devious content: To dramatize a profession given to manipulative deception, they decided to give the audience firsthand experience by running them down one misleading alley after another.  Or were they just distracting us from the project’s overall shakiness?

The film’s first deceptive feint is Wilson himself,...

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