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.


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