The Good Shepherd
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that although older teens may be interested in this adult-targeted thriller because of stars Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, it's slow going (and long) and has mature political and moral themes. Violence is frequent (weapons include guns, knives, and bombs and tanks during WWII in London), with two suicide scenes (one via gunshot, the other via jumping out a window) and a graphic torture scene in which CIA agents abuse a Russian spy. Edward and his fellow pledges are urinated on during a naked mud-wrestling scene. Edward has sex with three different women (not explicit, but you see bodies moving), and a surveillance film showing two people having sex appears repeatedly. Characters smoke cigarettes frequently and drink, sometimes to excess. Some language (four uses of "f--k").
What's the story?
A complicated, fictionalized version of the birth of the CIA, THE GOOD SHEPHERD centers on CIA operative Edward Wilson (Matt Damon). Director Robert De Niro's film cuts back and forth in time, showing how Edward came to be so dedicated to his job and how he pursues the traitor who spoiled the surprise of 1961's Bay of Pigs invasion. During WWII, Wilson winds up in London working for the Office of Strategic Services. He leaves behind his pregnant wife, Margaret (Angelina Jolie), becomes increasingly involved in his work, and discovers that lying, cheating, and murdering are necessary to protect borders and deceptions, as is the perpetual realigning of affinities. Recruited by CIA founder Bill Sullivan (De Niro), Edward believes that the group is solely (and nobly) interested in American values and identity, even though the group undertakes illegal, violent, racist, and hyper-nationalist operations. His wife complains that his devotion to national security distances him from his family, and indeed, it takes a heavy toll on his relationship with his son.
Is it any good?
This complex thriller considers the blindness and other costs that come with being too committed to a job, even one that involves national security. The problem that Edward's chosen profession poses for him is both prosaic and sensational. At one level, the cost of his patriotism is reduced to a common device -- the difficulties between father and son. The film winds tighter and tighter around this relationship. "I never felt safe," Edward Jr. says. "I was always afraid because everything was a secret."
While The Good Shepherd does concede that secret agencies need to keep secrets, it also rejects the slippery, paranoid morality that follows from such a premise.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the movies' fascination with espionage. Why are spy films so popular? How much of what we see on screen reflects reality, and how much is glamorized? What do you think a spy's day-to-day life is really like? Families can also discuss the lack of balance between family and career in Edward's life. How does his patriotism blind him to troubles at home and at work? How does the movie characterize the men who serve their country in this secret way? How does Edward and Margaret's social situation (especially their class) dictate and limit their options? What messages does the movie send about father-son relationships?