The Good Shepherd Movie

Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) is recruited for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services; precursor to the CIA) while at Yale University. He had witnessed his father’s suicide, a U.S. senator, as a child and kept hidden the suicide note, without reading it, for years. He seems born to secrecy. As a student he was tapped for membership in the secret Skull and Bones Society at Yale (George H.W. Bush and John Kerry are said to be members), a group to which generations of family members belong(ed.)


Although in love with a deaf girl, Laura (Tammy Lanchard), he has a trist with Clover Russell (Angelina Jolie), the sister of a fellow Bonesman. She becomes pregnant and they marry just as World War II breaks out and Edward is asked to go to England. He stays away for several years and returns home when his son (Eddie Redmayne) is six years old. By this time, President Truman, sensing the Red threat, has asked General Bill Sullivan (based on the actual character, “Wild Bill” Donovan) to begin the CIA; one of his first recruits is Edward Wilson.



For as much as Jeffrey Lyons, the movie critic for the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles, hates this movie, I was fascinated by it. For the first time in months I did not look at my watch during a (2:40 minute) movie. And I thought 2006 was a bad year for movies.


Matt Damon’s character seems to hardly change from beginning to end. For those of us trained by James Bond movies, Edward Wilson’s white-bread American life as a spy seems humdrum. But under his eye lids flicker his emotions, his thought processes, and his decisions.


Angelina Jolie is nothing less than brilliant in her role as the New England socialite who seems to want to love Edward, but is ultimately crushed when he shouts, in an unusual show of feeling, that the only reason he married her was because she was pregnant. She deserves awards consideration, as do Damon and Di Nero. In this role Jolie shows has the acting chops to be right up there with actresses like my mother’s favorite actress, Bette Davis. Billy Crudup is excellent as the Kim Philby-like character (one of the British Cambridge Five double agents) as are William Hurt as head of the CIA and John Turturro as Edward’s right hand man during WWII and after.



Robert Di Nero, who directs and plays Bill Sullivan, is really good on both counts. The film was probably shot in as non-linear a way as the narrative plays out, beginning with the U.S. failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and ending when the reason for the failure, and ultimately Wilson’s failure as a husband, father, human being – but not as an American – is revealed. Eric Roth, who also wrote Forrest Gump and Munich, has created a compelling screenplay that once again visits the topic of patriotism  – this time as religion and family.


There are several meaningful quotes in the film (other than the ones now listed at; here they are as I recall them (feel free to correct them):


At the annual meeting of the Skull and Bones Society, Margaret (who used to be called Clover) says when the minister is introduced to lead the prayer: Bonesman first, God second.


Cannot recall who said this: Did you ever notice why “the” never precedes CIA? Does “the” precede God?


When Wilson visits mobster Joseph Palmi (Joe Pesci) about the Bay of Pigs invasion and threatens deportation unless Palmi helps the CIA, Palmi asks him: We have Italy and family, the Irish have their homeland, but you, what do you have? Wilson answers: We have America; the rest of you are just along for the ride.


The Good Shepherd is the best spy movie I have ever seen, and one of the best films of the year. Thoughtful viewers will find want to know more, and think again about what makes us members of the human family, the ethics of espionage.


Espionage (and consequences) has been around for a long time. Do the ends justify the means? is a question The Good Shepherd asks without ever voicing it. Is the United States of America more important than family? Margaret Wilson doesn’t think so.  Can the CIA make mistakes and use torture? The film says so. Does a spy have a heart? Can he? You decide.


Why is this film called The Good Shepherd? After all, Wilson’s code name with his Soviet counterparts was “Mother”. Without knowing the official reason, I think it’s because of Wilson’s God-complex, his conviction of American superiority, leads him to be willing to sacrifice the happiness of his only son, and to lay down his own life or his country should it be necessary. He knew his sheep, they knew parts of him, and he was willing todie more for his sheep, at least the Skull and Bones kind and what they represent(ed).


Much food for thought….



… check out the Bible: Joshua, 1-6 and here’s Numbers 13-14:


 God told Moses to send men to spy out the land of Canaan. He told him to send a man from each tribe. Twelve men were sent. They were to find out about the land and the people in the land. Moses said to find out if the people were strong or weak. Did they live in cities or in camps? He wanted to know what the fruit of the land was like, and if they had forests or not. He asked them to bring back some of the fruit that was ripe.


The men went into the land and found that it really was a good land. The grapes were so big that it took two men to carry a cluster of them on a pole between them. But the people there were very big and tall, and the spies were afraid of them. They were gone for 40 days.


When they returned to their own camp, they showed Moses the good fruit they had found in the land. Ten of the men began to tell about the giants and how fearful they were. They told of large cities with high walls around them. “We cannot go into this land,” they said. “We were just like grasshoppers in our own sight, and also in the sight of the people there.”


Two men; Caleb and Joshua said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are able to overcome it.”


The Israelites didn’t want to go and take Canaan as God had wanted. God punished them by making them wander in the desert for 40 years. They had to wander around one year for every day the spies had been gone.


Of the twelve men, only Joshua and Caleb got to go into Canaan.


Night at the Museum

Larry Daly (Ben Stiller) is a divorced dad living in New York City struggling to make a living from his various get-rich schemes. His former wife Erica (Kim Raver) doesn’t want to continue letting their son, Nick (Jake Cherry) visit him until he shows more stability.


Larry takes a job as the night watchman at the museum. The three retiring watchmen played by Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs, show Larry the ropes, and on their way out leave him a set of instructions while Cobb copies the key to the museum.


On Larry’s first night the whole place comes to life and he wants to quit. The next night things get better. He makes friends with the T-Rex skeleton and Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams). Of course, the three old watchmen are up to something, and the way it is resolved makes Nick believe in his dad once again.



Based on the book by Milan Trenc, it took two screenwriters (Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon) to interpret it (rehash?) and get it into a screenplay. I was prepped to like the film by a colleague in London who had been to two pre-release screenings, but … as much as I wanted to like it, I thought it dragged on – and just wasn’t funny enough. The whole T-Rex sequence was straight out of a McDonald’s Super Bowl commercial from a few years ago and I liked it much better. The father-son plot was predictable, too. I always like Dick Van Dyke, but Mickey Rooney’s clichéd name-spewing failed to be cute after the first one. Even the scene with the monkey and Stiller slapping one another – it was funnier in the previews.


Night at the Museum, directed by Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen), is just OK (but the special visual effects are pretty awesome.)


Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are on vacation in Morocco to heal the wounds of the death of a child. Two young brothers, trying to hit a target at 3km with the rifle their father bought to kill jackels, shoot at the tour bus and a bullet hits Susan. One of the guides directs the bus to his village where Richard scrambles for help. He calls his home in San Diego to make sure his two older children, under the care of the housekeeper and nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza), are all right but they are about to go on their own journey to Mexico. The Moroccan police seek out the shooter by trying to trace the bullet. Richard is sure the U.S. embassy will help but there are difficulties and delays. The police in Tokyo visit the condo of a wealthy businessman and ask his teenaged daughter, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf-mute, to speak with him. Her mother committed suicide and she and her father do not communicate. It turns out that the high-powered rifle can be traced to him.


Babel is a complex puzzle and the events it portrays by its non-linear timeline, seem to take place almost simultaneously, not unlike director Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu’s 21 Grams (2003). He also directed Amores Perros (2001) – a film I have not yet seen (but I have the DVD and it is on my list).


The title “Babel”, of course, refers to the Genesis 11 when people tried to build a tower to the heavens, a sign of hubris that God countered by confusing their languages so the builders could not communicate.




There are so many threads to talk about in this fascinating film: the butterfly effect, family, life and death, guilt, guns, and empathy for starters, but I think communication, as it relates to the film’s title, is the ultimate theme of the movie. What begins as an act of generosity sets off a sequence of events with sad, tragic, and unintentional human consequences. There are breakdowns in communication, and breakthroughs.


The acting is superb as each character plays against another in an intentional pairing and cross-pairings of diverse relationships. Blanchett and Pitt’s intense and intimate marital bond is shown to us in intense close-ups when he cares for her while awaiting help. We expect superb acting from Blanchett, but on the other side of the world, Rinko Kikuchi’s performance as the grieving and isolated daughter, living inside her head, breaks our hearts.



Babel is a gritty film that appeals to the intellect, engages the heart, and makes us reflect and perhaps take some kind of action about the centrality of communication (over guns); indeed the film makes us thirst for it for the characters as we experience the film and ponder the future of the human family beyond and within our own borders.


It would be very interesting to see Babel and the 2002 Chinese film Hero that looked at communication and the sword in an intensely beautiful and truthful way. The theme of the rifle in Babel may seem sub-textual, but as pivotal as the rock in the old “Rock Soup” tale, it has the subtle power to make us reflect about arms and what happens when they fall into the hands of even the innocent.