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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Good Shepherd

by on May 4, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Good Shepherd”
Rated R
2006

Matt Damon starred in 2006’s best mob movie — the one in which Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese had no hand. Only government sponsorship differentiated gangsters from G-men in “The Good Shepherd” — Robert De Niro’s long-overdue sophomore directorial effort.

Blending dignified spy games a la John le Carre with a brutish sense of what it’s like to be “bootmakers to the king,” “Shepherd” chronicled one man’s moral corruption as unforgettably as “The Godfather.”

Edward Wilson (Damon) is welcomed as an analyst into what would become the Central Intelligence Agency, where his future and family are undone by his own neuroses, byzantine betrayals and a stockpile of state secrets.

Screenwriter Eric Roth’s spellbinding shadowplay held several surprises up its sleeve — not just in the Cold War-era narrative, but in just how bitterly a line about the CIA as America’s heart and soul echoed across the film.

“Shepherd” also showed why Damon is one of today’s most consistently surprising, prodigiously gifted leading men — a specialist in complex men whose expectations are upended for better or worse. In an almost invisibly potent performance, Damon shows Edward’s slow change in gradually hardened, deadened eyes.

Angelina Jolie matched him as Clover, a flirty debutante whose mutually impatient impulse with Edward traps them in a marital hell of painful emotional vengeance.

As a punishingly ambiguous and astonishingly thorough tragedy, “The Good Shepherd” showed that emotions as human as any errors can undermine intelligence and questioned whether God and country alone could be enough for a man’s soul.

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