The Good Shepherd (2006)




Director:    Robert De Niro.

Starring:    Matt Damon (Edward Wilson), Angelina Jolie (Clover/Margaret Russell), Alec Baldwin (Sam Murach), Tammy Blanchard (Laura), Billy Crudup (Arch Cummings), Robert De Niro (General Bill Sullivan), Keir Dullea (Senator Russell), Michael Gambon (Dr. Fredericks), Martina Gedeck (Hanna Schiller), William Hurt (Philip Allen), Timothy Hutton (Thomas Wilson), Mark Ivanir (Valentin Mironov #2), Gabriel Macht (John Russell, Jr.), Lee Pace (Richard Hayes), Joe Pesci (Joseph Palmi).

the early history of the American CIA up to the early 1960s


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

April 1961.  The Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba to overthrow Castro's government fails.  The CIA reports that the Cubans under Fidel Castro knew where to find the invading forces.  There is a stranger in the house of the CIA.  Agent Hayes tells the very stiff Agent Edward Wilson that he must find the source of the leak.  The head of the CIA is Philip Allen. 

Flashback to 1939, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.  Edward Wilson joins the highly secret and selective Skull and Bones Society.  He has to go through the rites of initiation.  The members ask him to reveal a secret he has never revealed to anyone else.  Edward reveals that his father left a note and then killed himself and that he as a young boy took and kept the suicide letter a secret and told everyone the suicide was an accident. 

In the library he meets a young deaf student named Laura and they seem to hit it off. 

Edward is contacted about doing some intelligence work.  The job is to keep an eye on Professor Fredericks and his American German Cultural Commission, which is thought to be a Nazi front.  Edward spies on Fredericks and is able to copy a list of the membership of the organization.  Later Fredericks tells his students that Yale is letting him go.  He tells Edward that he betrayed him, but Edward responds that it was the professor who had betrayed him. 

As World War II approaches, the O.S.S., an early model for the CIA, is conceived.  At Deer Island, a Skull and Bones Society retreat, Edward meets the sister of John Russell Jr., Clover Russell.  Their father is US Senator John Russell Sr.   The very rebellious and bold Clover takes an almost immediate interest in Edward and, on her initiative, they have sex together.   At the same retreat Edward meets with General Sullivan.  He asks Edward if he is interested in joining an intelligence service and Edward replies in the affirmative.  The General mentions that there will be no Jews, Negroes or Catholics in the agency. 

Edward and Laura are spending a day at the beach.  John Russell Jr. disturbs their day together to tell Edward that his sister Clover is pregnant.  He suggests that Edward "do the right thing" and marry her.  Laura finds out because she reads the lips of Clover's brother.  Edward and Clover marry, but he has to leave for an overseas assignment in just one week. 

Back to 1961.  With the experts, Edward examines a tape taken from the Russians that may indicate the source of the leak for the location of what became the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  They are having trouble getting the rough tape into shape so it can be fully utilized. 

1941.  Edward is in England during the London Blitz.  To Edward's surprise, Professor Fredericks is there.  The Professor tells him that he (Edward) had ruined two years of undercover work with the German-Americans organization.  Philip Allen is also there in England.  A new man named Raymond comes on board to work for Edward.  He tells Edward that he (Edward) is widely known as a man with no sense of humor. 

A British agent named Arch Cummings and agent Hayes tell Edward that Fredericks is a sexual deviant who is not careful with the selection of his sexual partners. They want Edward to deal with the man.  Meeting with Fredericks, Edward has to tell him that the agency is not happy with his sexual partner.  Fredericks tells Edwards that intelligence work is dirty business and that he should get out while he can, while he still has his soul.  Edward separates from Fredericks after breaking the news to him and speaks with Cummings.  Edward notices when a group of men grab the Professor.  He then hears terrible noises of suffering.  Edward runs to see what has happened.  He arrives just as the men throw Fredericks's body into the river.  Cummings tells Edwards that Fredericks knew too much. 

1961.  Edward gets another progress report on improving the Russian tape. 

1945.  Berlin, Soviet Sector.  Edward helps find asylum for Nazi war criminals.  (He tells Raymond to inform the authorities about the Nazi's true identity after his usefulness ends.) 

1961.  More work on the tape. 

1945. Berlin.  Edward calls home and learns from his son that his wife is going out with another guy.  The female German to English translator asks Edward if he will come to her apartment for a home cooked meal.  Edward goes and winds up having sex with her.  But, while in her apartment, he learns that she is not who she pretends to be.  He has her checked out and she is eliminated.  While in Berlin, he meets with Soviet agent "Ulysses", but nothing immediate results from it. 

1946. Washington, D.C.  After an absence of six years, Edward returns to his family.  He gets and gives a very stiff welcome.  Clover, who wants to be called Margaret now, says they should sleep in separate beds until they can become acquainted again.  Edward learns from her that her brother was killed in Burma in 1944.  She mentions that she had sex with the man she was seeing just once and then the affair ended. 

The O.S.S. is replaced by the CIA.  Edward is put in charge of Division C, Special Operations, Counter Intelligence. 

1947.  CIA operation in Guatemala.  They want to overthrow the government there.  To weaken the government they attack the coffee plantation of the Mayan Coffee Company by releasing thousands of locusts over the coffee plantations.  Edward receives a finger of a CIA agent with a fancy class ring on it in a coffee can, probably sent by the Communists. 

Margaret tells her friends that Edward works for the CIA.  Edward is, of course, furious with her, but she is also furious with him because she says he works all the time, seven days a week, from eight in the morning to ten at night.  His son is also not happy with his father's behavior. 

A coup takes out the unwanted government in Guatemala.  Edward learns that Philip Allen is on the board of directors of the Mayan Coffee Company.  He asks agent Sam of the FBI to get all the information he can on Philip. 

1961.  Philip Allen asks Edward for the list of the operatives involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  Edward has to admit that there is no such lists since it was a secret operation.  (But Edward also won't write a list of the operatives that he knows were working on the invasion.)

1958.  Soviet agent Valentin Mironov defects to the United States.  Edward and his men interview the agent to make sure he is not a double agent.  The Soviet agent tells Edward that agent Ulysses is obsessed with him and that he has connections with Castro.  Edward goes to a Chekhov play with Mironov.  He sees Laura sitting in the theatre and she sees him.  They both leave the theatre early and he arranges a meeting with her.  The two meet and they end up having sex.  Then one day the photos of the affair are sent to Margaret.  She is furious and balls him out publicly at a Skull and Bones retreat.  She then goes home to her mother in Phoenix. 

Castro tours the USA and says he is not a communist.  Later, Soviet leader Khrushchev meets with Castro. 

Edward's wife returns.  He gives out a weak "Glad you're home". 

Edward meets with Ulysses and threatens that the US might consider an invasion of Cuba if the situation does not improve in that country.

JFK is a candidate for the presidency of the United States.  Another Soviet agent, also claiming to be Mironov, defects and says the other Mironov is a double agent for the Soviets.  The CIA boys don't believe him and Raymond beats and slaps the man  until he is bloody and his left eye is swollen shut.  The guys then get the bright idea of giving the hallucinogenic drug L.S.D. as a "truth" pill to the second Mironov.  The affair ends with the agent under interrogation jumping out the window to his death.  Was the now dead man the true Mironov?  They don't really know. 

It is interesting that the second Mironov tells the CIA that Soviet power is a myth, that nothing really works in the Soviet Union.  But, he adds, you need that fear to keep your military industrial complex going strong.  (Even when the Soviet Union fell it came as a complete surprise to the geniuses at the CIA and elsewhere in the USA.)

Edward's son joins the Skull and Bones society and tells his father that he will join the CIA.  Edward is uneasy about the idea knowing how tough the experience can be.  His wife demands that he try to keep their son out of the CIA and in the argument that follows he let's slip that: "I married you because of him."  She is shocked. 

While trying to get the help of mobster Joseph Palmi, Edward tells him that what inspires him is the USA, adding that: "The rest of you are just visiting."  (With that kind of egomaniacal attitude no wonder the CIA was shocked when the Soviet Union collapsed and that they later provided false information to President Bush II to justify a fiasco of a war in Iraq.)  Well, as Margaret told her husband, its: "The agency first, God second."

Margaret moves out to live with her mother. 

1961.  The experts have done such a good job of improving the Russian tape that Edward can head down to Leopoldville, Congo and actually find the room in which the tape was made.  While looking at the room, Edward realizes that a miniature ship he made for Edward is on the night stand. It was Edward who let slip to his black lover that he overheard his father talking about the Bay of Pigs.  Ulysses now arranges a meeting with Edward to blackmail him.  He will not reveal the identity of Edward's son if Edward will help the Soviets.  Edward talks to his son about the woman in the Congo.  The son tells the father: "I love her." 

Edward discovers that the first Miranov is the double agent and the agent who committed suicide was the real Miranov.  Miranov is arrested to be deported back to the Soviet Union (and to sure death since he is no longer trusted by the Soviets).  Cummins in Britain is exposed as a double agent.  Edward now declines Ulysses's offer. 

The African woman and Edward's son are getting married at a church in Leopoldville.  The families are all there.  Edward has to tell his son that his soon-to-be wife was killed.  (She was thrown out of the plane headed to Leopoldville without a parachute.)

Philip Allen will resign from the agency, to be replaced by agent Hayes.  Hayes will have to clean house in the agency. 

Edward opens up his father's sealed suicide letter and reads it.  It is a letter of apology for the misbehavior that led him to take his own live.  Edward then burns the letter. 


The movie was a little too long.  The constant switching back and forth from 1961 to the past and back again was a bit confusing.  (My 30 year old son was often lost.)  The man they chose to highlight, Edward, was a lousy husband, a lousy father and a poor human being.  His emotional intelligence was very low and he did hurtful things that damaged his girlfriend, his wife and his son.  The man was a workaholic.  He was also an arrogant son-of-a-bitch saying that everyone in the US, except for the CIA agents, are just visiting the country. 

Matt Damon was good as the objectionable Edward. 

Of course, all the nations of the world need an intelligence agency.  It is an absolute necessity.  The only problem is that often the US is on the wrong side in disputes with other nations.  The Vietnam War and the Iraq War under George Bush II were both huge fiascos that were not necessary to fight.  The US is at present a pretty much constant reactionary force in the world community and this does not make the CIA popular except among the right-wing conservatives and rednecks.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




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