The Good Shepherd (Morgan Creek/Tribeca, R)

damonDamon's performance is outstanding. His quiet struggle at times is more emotional than the loudest screams of lesser actors.






It is the essential element to all human relations. And it is often a central theme in film. Rarely, however, has a film examined the idea of trust as well and as thoroughly as The Good Shepherd.

The film follows the life of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) from his early days at Yale and induction into the secret Skull and Bones society. From this association, Wilson's whole life is transformed as he is recruited by the OSS to serve as an agent in England during the Second World War. The relationships he makes along the way create the man he is to become, a man who puts duty to country ahead of all other things. And it is that sense of duty that makes him examine and question just who he can trust and who he cannot, until he is a man who finds himself slowly being isolated from everyone and everything he ever knew.

Damon's performance is outstanding. Considering much of the story is Wilson's inner struggle to do what is right by his exacting standards, it could have proven to be a pretty boring couple of hours in the theater. But Damon's quiet struggle at times is more emotional than the loudest screams of lesser actors. And the silent desperation is all the more powerful when the character relaxes in rare moments and lets down his guard, revealing the other person within: a man who wants to love and laugh but simply does not have that luxury most of the time.

The supporting cast is also outstanding, notably Michael Gambon as Wilson's poetry professor at Yale, and Eddie Redmayne as Wilson's troubled son. Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro are also among the many names in the cast, which is not much of a surprise considering DeNiro also directed the film, his first such effort since 1993's This Boy's Life.

Turns out it was worth the wait. The movie has a wonderful film noir feel to it, lots of dark, moody shots that capture Wilson's world. At times, it feels downright claustrophobic, at other times dizzyingly out of control, and always filled with tension, with only the slightest moments to relax and catch your breath before the story goes deeper into the shadowy world of espionage.

But even as good as the acting and directing are in The Good Shepherd, perhaps the most important aspect for making it the film it is is the writing of Eric Roth. Roth, whose credits include Munich, Ali, and The Insider, and who won an Oscar for Forrest Gump, does here what he did in those films. He creates interesting characters whose lives become intertwined in a larger story with the focus remaining on the characters. That is what makes the film most appealing. Anyone can identify with the personal struggles of a solitary person, but very few can identify with the creation of an institution as vast as the CIA.

Regardless of the fact that the film runs a little long, in the end, The Good Shepherd contains all the elements necessary to make one of the best films to come along in a very long time.

Trust me. | Dave McCahan

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