Me and my friends went to see “The Good Shepard” Saturday night, a movie about the inception (and deception) of the CIA surrounding the Bay of Pigs invasion and Cold War. It was directed by/produced by Francis Ford Coppola and Robert De Niro (who also starred), with screenplay by Eric Roth of “Forrest Gump” fame. Cast included (in addition to De Niro) Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Billy Crudup, Tim Hutton, and Joe Pesci among others. Seriously star-studded, and some of those casting decisions were spot-on awesome (Crudup and Baldwin especially). However, the two main characters, Jolie and Damon, I believe were a terrible mis-cast. Neither really embodied what they were meant to. Damon was playing Edward Wilson and Jolie was playing his long-suffering and ignored wife, Clover. However Damon appeared stiff and uncomfortable in the role, and Jolie over-dramatic. That said, the rest of the acting in the movie was top-notch.
As mentioned by Crimelibrary’s feature, this movie is loosely based on real events and the life of notorious CIA spy-catcher James Jesus Angleton. The character Damon plays is supposed to reflect Angleton:
Few CIA spooks have received as much attention as Angleton. None has ever been as controversial. His critics claim his paranoid-fueled hunt for a Soviet KGB mole burrowed inside the CIA almost destroyed the agency when Angleton ran its counter-intelligence operations from 1948 until he was forced to resign in 1975. His admirers insist Angleton’s unflinching eye kept the CIA from being penetrated by skilled KGB agents during the height of the Cold War.
A tall, stooped chain-smoker, who usually dressed in black and whose hobbies were writing poetry and growing orchids, Angleton was known by the codename “Mother” and has been the inspiration behind characters in numerous spy novels.
“The Good Shepard” follows Wilson from his college days in Yale, where he outed his Nazi sympathizing mentor, to his role in the CIA in counter-intelligence around the Bay of Pigs. The movie is well crafted and builds a lot of suspense, as any good spy thriller should. Everything in the movie centers around betrayal, and how you can’t really trust anyone. Wilson’s KGB counter-part, codenamed “Ulysses”, is an especially interesting character. A particular scene involving Ulysses’ identity, with someone else claiming to be him, is really hard-hitting in an Abu-Ghraib kind of way. Let’s just say dosing someone with LSD as a truth serum isn’t the best idea the CIA has ever had.
The movie is long, so go in prepared for an epic that is worth the time. It requires a bit of suspension of disbelief in regard to babyfaced Damon (um, at some points he looks younger than his 20 year old son). And there is one quote that made me cringe for its cheesy “no one says that in real life” quality: “Someone once asked me why there isn’t a “the” in front of CIA. I said, Do you put a “the” in front of God?” Blech. But, hey its Hollywood, so those one-liners should be expected. I say go see it, I really enjoyed it, despite its minor flaws.