This has been called “The Godfather of spy films”, and it’s easy to see the comparison. Even leaving aside Francis Ford Coppola’s involvement, both movies are intense, measured examinations of family, loyalty, secrecy and betrayal.
Although I love spy action films, I actually much prefer my spy stories to delve into the mechanics and politics behind the scenes. The Good Shepherd does this magnificently. Don’t expact any big explosions or hyperactive stunts. Do expect a set of awesome performances from an all-star ensemble cast. In particular, Matt Damon’s depiction of cautious, withdrawn spymaster Edward Wilson could hardly be further removed from his turn as Jason Bourne. Very highly recommended.
I had somehow got it into my head that this was a gritty spy thriller like Spy Game; it isn’t. It’s a complex economic and political drama involving some characters who are spies. George Clooney won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Bob, a hardened but frustrated operative in the Middle East. Jeffrey Wright is a Washington lawyer involved in an investigation of a massive merger between two oil companies. Matt Damon is an energy analyst who finds himself appointed economic adviser for a progressive Arabian prince (Alexander Siddig). Mazhar Munir is a young Pakistani living in an (unnamed) Middle East country, made unemployed by the merger between the oil firms, and recruited into a terrorist cell.
The four stories are tied together by oil, the greed that desires it, and the corruption this greed produces. It never attempts to portray the global tensions as anything other than unfeeling and cruel, yet it shows how these forces are set in motion by ordinary men and women with whom we feel a close bond–even the ones whose actions we may despise. It’s an uncomfortable film to watch, because in the end it leaves little room for hope. But its emotional honesty is a powerful force, and all the cast give extraordinary performances. I don’t know how the film will be seen in ten or twenty years’ time, but right now it stands out as exceptional and highly significant.