2006 - United States - 167 minutes
Writer - Eric Roth
Director - Robert De Niro
Internet Movie Database User Rating - 6.9/10 - Link to IMDB
My Rating - 5 of 5 Stars

I was overwhelmed by the quality of this film. It is a fictional representation of the birth of the CIA and its first director, James Angleton. From the little I've read of Angleton, he was the poster child for paranoia, and Matt Damon does him justice in a superbly understated way.

Damon plays Edward Bell Wilson who begins his career as the master of covert operations and misdirection as a young boy when he conceals the reasons for the suicide of his father. Edward shows some semblance of normalcy during his college years, but personal circumstances and his involvement in covert operations during World War II turns him into a nationalistic automaton. The United States of America is his true god and family, and even though he is a good man at heart, he is no real husband or father. Damon's often silent - never overt - acting paints a startling portrait of a complex man.

The film is peppered with big stars, but John Turturro stands out as Wilson's right hand man. Turturro is chilling as the person who actually carries out most of the violence seen in the film. Wilson appears to be totally non-violent, and Turturro is his grimly capable Mr. Hyde.

More that just a telling of the start of the notorious agency, this film is also a love story, a family tale, and a mystery. We are treated to views of the mystifying Skull and Bones society of Yale University. As a matter of fact it plays a big part throughout the film supporting the rumors that most high-ranking members of the CIA are also members of Skull and Bones. In the love story, we get a hint at what Wilson might have become had not circumstances conspired against him. And the family tale focuses upon the father-son relationships of three generations of the Wilson family. All of these are bound tightly around the real central character - the CIA.

I have read several reviews that compare this film with The Godfather, and it certainly has many of its excellent qualities. Its production values are top quality, all of the acting is far above average, and Robert De Niro skillfully heads up the whole thing to give the viewer nearly three hours of enthralling entertainment.

Neil Turner
April 6, 2007

The Good Shepherd