The Good Shepherd
is a 2006 spy film
by Robert De Niro
and Angelina Jolie
, with an extensive supporting
cast. Although it is a fictional film loosely based on real events,
it is advertised as telling the untold story of the birth of
. The film's main character, Edward Wilson (portrayed by
Matt Damon), is loosely based on James Jesus Angleton
and Richard M. Bissell
. William Hurt
's character, Phillip Allen, is
largely based on Allen Dulles
General Bill Sullivan, played by Robert
, is loosely based on Major General William Joseph Donovan
the Bay of Pigs Invasion of
Cuba fails due to an undisclosed leak.
a photograph and an audio recording on reel-to-reel tape
anonymously dropped off at the home of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon
), a senior CIA officer.
narrative flashes back to 1939: Edward is attending Yale University and is a new member of Skull and Bones, a secret society that grooms future U.S.
As part of his initiation, Edward must reveal a
secret about himself: he reveals that as a young boy, he discovered
his father's suicide note
. After the
ceremony, a fraternity brother tells him that Edward's father, an
admiral, was to be chosen as Secretary of the Navy, until his
loyalties were questioned. He asks Edward what the suicide note
said, and Edward tells him that he never read it.
after the Skull and Bones ceremony, Edward is recruited by an
(Alec Baldwin), who claims that
Edward's poetry professor, Dr. Fredericks (Michael Gambon), is a Nazi spy.
is asked to help expose the professor, which he does, resulting in
Dr. Fredericks' deportation. It is also heavily implied that the
professor is homosexual (taboo in this era), and that the professor
has an attraction to Edward, which would aid Edward in exposing
Edward begins a relationship with a hearing-impaired student named
Laura (Tammy Blanchard
while attending a Skull and Bones retreat on Deer
Island, Edward meets Margaret 'Clover' Russell (Angelina Jolie), his friend's sister.
Bill Sullivan (Robert De Niro), who
is not a member of the Skull and Bones Society, asks Edward to join
the OSS, offering him a
post in London.
after, Clover aggressively seduces Edward.
A few months later, while Edward and Laura are at the beach,
Clover's brother arrives and privately reveals that Clover is
pregnant with Edward's child and suggests he "do what is expected."
Laura, able to read lips, sees this and walks away. Edward marries
Clover. During the wedding reception, a U.S. Army courier
reiterates General Sullivan's offer of a position at the OSS London
office. Edward accepts, whereupon the courier hands over his
orders, requiring him to be in England in one week. Clover is to
remain in the US. To his surprise, Edward's former professor, Dr.
Fredericks, is also in London; he is actually a British
intelligence operative. While at Yale, he had sought to infiltrate
a Nazi organization, causing the American authorities to suspect
that he was a Nazi spy. Edward's betrayal of his professor ruined
two years of espionage work. Despite this, Fredericks recognized
Edward's gifts and recommended that he be trained in
counter-espionage methods in London.
Soon after, a British intelligence officer, Arch Cummings (Billy Crudup
), tells Edward that Fredericks'
indiscriminate homosexual relationships pose a security risk and
asks Edward to deal with his former mentor. As they walk,
Fredericks refuses Edward's chivalrous suggestion to protect
himself by returning to teaching, and he, in turn, advises Edward
to "quit the dirty work ... while you still have a soul." However,
he will understand if Edward wants to "tie his shoe" (a signal to
watchers that the meeting went badly). Edward delays, which prompts
Fredericks to kneel down and tie Edward's shoe for him. As their
meeting ends, Fredericks leaves Edward, and, after turning a street
corner, is killed and his body dumped into the river.
The timeline moves to post-war Berlin, where the Allies and the
Soviets, in a race for technological superiority, are trying to
recruit as many German scientists as possible. Edward encounters
his Soviet counterpart, codenamed "Ulysses", who praises Edward as
a formidable adversary. They and their subordinates meet in a
bombed-out church in Berlin and plan an exchange of scientists -—
the Soviets asking for German Nazi and Slavic scientists, while the
Americans seek Jewish scientists.
Edward interviews potential German informants with the aid of a
female interpreter, Hanna Schiller (Martina Gedeck
), who wears a hearing aid
. When Edward makes a rare phone call
home, he inadvertently learns from his young son, Edward, Jr., that
Clover is seeing another man. After the phone call, Hanna enters
Edward's office and invites him to her house. After cooking dinner,
she asks him to stay, and they end up having sex. Afterwards,
Edward realizes that Hanna can hear him without the use of her
hearing aid, exposing her as a Soviet operative who has infiltrated
OSS activities. Edward has Hanna killed and notifies Ulysses by
having her hearing aid planted into his tea pot.
After six years in London, Edward returns to the United States and
is greeted by Clover (who now prefers to be called Margaret).
Edward presents his son with a miniature model ship he made, which
is inside a glass watch-casing. He learns from Margaret that her
brother was killed in the war, and she confesses that she was
seeing another man. When she asks if he had any relationships,
Edward replies that "it was a mistake." She suggests they sleep in
separate bedrooms until they become re-acquainted, to which Edward
agrees. General Sullivan approaches Edward again to help form a new
foreign intelligence organisation (the CIA) where Edward will work
with his former colleague, Richard Hayes (Lee
), under Phillip Allen (William
). Edward accepts, hiding the details about his job from
his wife's friends and other acquaintances.
Edward's first assignment deals with an unnamed Central American
coffee-growing country where the Russians are trying to gain
influence. Edward spots Ulysses in the background of some stock
footage of the country's leader, but chooses to conceal this
information from others in the room. An agent, also a Skull and
Bones member, is sent undercover as a representative of the Mayan
coffee company. In order to intimidate the Central American leader,
Edward arranges for airplanes to fly over and release locusts
during a public event where the Russians (including Ulysses) are
present. Edward later receives a can of Mayan coffee, presumably
from Ulysses, containing the severed finger of the American
Edward interviews Valentin Mironov, a Russian requesting asylum and
claiming to be a high-ranking official who knows Ulysses. While
attending the theatre with Mironov and Cummings, Edward
unexpectedly encounters his former sweetheart, Laura. Edward and
Laura leave the theatre separately, then meet at a restaurant and
discuss old times before having sex at Laura's house.
Sometime later, when Edward has gone ahead to a Skull and Bones
dinner, Margaret anonymously receives photos of Laura and Edward
getting into a taxi
together and kissing. A
distraught Margaret confronts him at the dinner. Edward ends the
relationship with Laura by returning her jewelled crucifix
, which he had kept from their college
receives a call from a Soviet defector (Mark Ivanir) claiming that
he is the real Valentin Mironov, and the person they know as
Valentin is an impostor whose real name is Yuri Modin, a KGB operative
working for Ulysses.
Edward does not believe him, and agents
torture the Russian in an attempt to uncover his true identity. The
defector never changes his story. He is beaten, stripped naked, and
even endures a form of waterboarding
Eventually, he is administered liquid LSD
because of its alleged truth serum
properties, which ultimately cause erratic behavior. But he solidly
clings to his stated identity; he calmly states that he is Valentin
Mironov and commits suicide by hurling himself through the window
to the pavement several stories below. This is apparently based on
an actual event when U.S. Army scientist Frank Olson
died in a similar way in 1953,
allegedly as a result of unwittingly participating in CIA-conducted
LSD experiments called MKULTRA
first man claiming to be Mironov, who witnessed the ordeal from
behind a two-way mirror with Edward, offers to take LSD to prove
Edward visits his son, Edward Jr., at Yale, where he has also
joined the Skull and Bones society and has been approached for
recruitment by the CIA. Margaret (Clover) pleads with Edward to
persuade their son not to accept, but Edward Jr. joins anyway,
believing it will bring him closer to his loving, but distant,
father. This widens the rift between Edward and Margaret, and she
eventually leaves him and moves to Arizona to live with her mother.
Later, while at a Skull and Bones retreat, Edward discusses the
upcoming Bay of Pigs invasion with Hayes. Edward Jr. inadvertently
overhears the discussion and a reference to "Bahía de Cochinos",
Spanish for "Bay of Pigs." Edward suspects that Edward Jr. may have
overheard the conversation and warns his son not to repeat anything
that was discussed.
Time passes, and the Bay of Pigs invasion fails. The CIA thoroughly
analyzes the photograph (which depicts a Caucasian man and a woman
of color making love) and the edited version of the tape that was
anonymously dropped at Edward's house earlier in the movie.
visual clues such as the ceiling fan's brand name and the church
bells and other sounds heard on the tape, CIA specialists deduce
that the photograph may have been taken in Leopoldville, Congo.
Edward goes there and finds the room. He
realizes that the photograph and tape are of his son Edward Jr.
when he sees the model ship in the glass watch-casing that he gave
his son sitting on the nightstand; its blurred image was the one
object in the photo that the CIA team was unable to identify.
Ulysses has apparently been awaiting Edward's arrival. He plays
Edward an unedited version of the tape, which reveals that Edward
Jr. repeated "Bahía de Cochinos", the classified information he
overheard his father discussing, to his lover—a Soviet spy. It is
that information which led to the Cubans' and Soviets' knowledge
regarding the CIA landing at the Bay of Pigs. Ulysses reveals that
the woman spy has truly fallen in love with Edward Jr. Ulysses
encourages Edward to spy for the Soviets in exchange for them
protecting his son. Edward is non-committal, however; he confronts
his son, who says that he is in love with the woman and plans to
marry her. When Edward tells him she is a spy, Edward Jr. refuses
to believe him.
Edward exposes Valentin as a Soviet spy after finding evidence
hidden in the book binding of a copy of Ulysses
: inside are a passport with his
real name and an escape plan. Arch Cummings is also exposed as a
co-conspirator. In an earlier scene, Cummings gave the book to
Valentin as a seemingly clever benign gift, playing on Valentin's
knowledge about Ulysses, the Soviet spy. Arch Cummings flees to the
USSR. After this, while meeting in a museum, Edward declines to run
counter-intelligence for the Soviets. Edward explains that the
Soviets have won in Cuba and that it is not necessary to hurt his
son. Ulysses makes a reference to Edward doing him a future favor,
having placed Edward in a compromising position. Ulysses notes of
Edward Jr.'s fiancée: "neither of us can be sure about her", and
asks Edward, "You want her to be part of your family, don't you?"
Edward says nothing. Shortly after this, Ulysses' aide asks him for
change to purchase his daughter a souvenir from the gift shop.
Edward asks how much it is, and, upon hearing it is a dollar, hands
him a one dollar note, commenting that a cardinal
democracy is generosity. This appears to be a reference to a scene
from the film's beginning, where a young boy on a bus asks Edward
for change for a dollar—when Edward returns to his office, he
matches the bill's serial number to a CIA asset codenamed
"CARDINAL". So Edward is, in fact, returning the "marked" dollar to
the asset, who is Ulysses' aide.
Edward and Margaret arrive separately to the Congo for Edward Jr.'s
wedding. His fiancée boards a small plane to travel to the
ceremony. In mid-flight, she is thrown out the plane by the
co-pilot. When she fails to arrive at the church, Edward informs a
worried Edward Jr. that his fiancée is dead. Edward Jr. tearfully
asks his father if he had anything to do with her death, to which
Edward denies any responsibility. Edward Jr. reveals that his
fiancée was pregnant; this news shocks and saddens Edward.
Edward then meets with fellow Skull and Bones classmate Hayes
(loosely based on Richard Helms
the new CIA headquarters still under construction. Hayes tells him
that Allen is resigning under a cloud of financial improprieties,
and that the President has asked him to be the new Director. The
President has directed him to do some "housecleaning" and he tells
Edward that he needs someone he can trust, saying, "after all,
we're still brothers" and that Edward is the "CIA's heart and
soul". He then shows Edward a wing of the CIA that will be Edward's
"part of the world" and tells him he will be the first head of
Edward is then shown opening a floor safe in his closet and pulling
out the suicide note that his father, Thomas, had left before
killing himself. Edward finally reads the note, in which his
father's words reveal that he had betrayed his country. He left
loving words for his wife and son, particularly urging the latter
to grow up to be a good man, husband, and father and to live a life
of decency and truth. Edward burns the note.
The movie ends with Edward leaving his old office and moving to his
new wing in the CIA.
Damon, De Niro, Gedeck, and Hutton at
the February 2007 premiere of the film in Berlin
wrote the screenplay in 1994 for
Francis Ford Coppola
. Roth read
and became intrigued with the people who built the CIA.
Coppola left the project because he could not relate to the
characters due to their lack of emotion (although he retained a
credit as co-executive producer). Wayne
was set to direct and even conducted some location
scouting but management changes at Columbia ended his involvement.
The new administration gave Roth a list of directors to choose from
and one of them was Philip Kaufman
He felt that Roth's script, whose original structure was linear,
should go back and forth in time to "give it a more contemporary
feeling". Kaufman and Roth worked on the project for a year and
then the management changed at the studio again. The new studio
head had no interest in spy films unless they could get a movie
star like Tom Cruise
to appear in the
film. The project languished until John Frankenheimer
signed on to make the
film with MGM
agreeing to purchase the rights.
He wanted Robert De Niro to star and having just worked together on
. De Niro had been
developing his own spy story about the CIA from the Bay of Pigs
Invasion to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and agreed to appear in the film.
During pre-production in 2002, Frankenheimer died. According to
producer Jane Rosenthal
, this had
been Robert De Niro's pet project for nine years, but it proved
difficult to produce in a pre-9/11
world and had to compete with his
busy schedule as an actor. The actor said in an interview, “I had
always been interested in the Cold War. I was raised in the Cold
War. All of the intelligence stuff was interesting to me”. De Niro
and Roth ended up making a deal: Roth would write up De Niro's idea
into a screenplay if the actor would direct his existing script. If
The Good Shepherd
proved to be a commercial success then
their follow-up would be De Niro's pitch.
De Niro took the project to Universal
where producer Graham King
agreed to help finance the $110+ million budget. He had a deal with
interested in playing the film's protagonist Edward Wilson. De Niro
planned to shoot the movie in in early 2005 but DiCaprio could not
do it then because he was making The
. King left with him and so did his financial backing.
De Niro approached Matt Damon who was also doing The
but would be done earlier than DiCaprio and De Niro
would only have to wait six months to do the film with him.
Initially, Damon turned De Niro down because he was scheduled to
shoot Steven Soderbergh
agreed to delay filming and Damon agreed to star as Wilson. James
Robinson's Morgan Creek Productions agreed to help finance the film
with a budget under $90 million which meant that many of the
principal actors, Damon included, would have to waive their usual
salaries to keep costs down. Damon had first read Roth's script in
1997 but did see a role for himself at the time.
De Niro was not interested in making a spy movie with flashy
violence and exciting car chases. “I just like it when things
happen for a reason. So I want to downplay the violence, depict it
in a muted way. In those days, it was a gentleman's game”. He and
Roth were also interested in showing how absolute power corrupted
the leaders of the CIA. Early on, De Niro said in an interview,
“they tried to do what they thought was right. And then, as they
went on, they became overconfident and started doing things that
are not always in our best interests”. In preparation for the film,
De Niro watched spy films like The Spy Who Came In
From the Cold
, and Smiley's
. He also hired retired CIA agent Milton Bearden
to serve as s technical
adviser on the film. They had first worked together on Meet the Parents
where De Niro played
a retired CIA agent. Bearden agreed to take De Niro through
Afghanistan to the north-west frontier of Pakistan and into Moscow for a guided
tour of intelligence gathering.
Damon also spent time with
Bearden as well as visiting several of the locations depicted in
the film and reading several books on the CIA. Bearden also made
sure that the historical aspects were correct but fictionalized to
a certain degree.
photography began on August 18, 2005 with shooting taking place in
City, Washington D.C., London and the
-winning art director Jeannine Oppewall
was assigned art
director for The Good Shepherd
, which would eventually
earn Oppewall her fourth Oscar nomination for Best Art Design
conducted a large amount of research for the film that filled ten
to twelve, six-inch thick three-ring binders. It took her a week to
organize the number of set locations due to the large amounts of
settings in the script, which included Cuba, Léopoldville, London,
Guatemala, Moscow, New
York and New Haven, Connecticut, among other places. Although the vast
majority of the movie was filmed in New York, the only scenes that
are actually set in New York take place in a house in Manhasset Long Island. As a result, many sets had to be
constructed under Oppewall's direction, including a Skull and Bones
headquarters and the Berlin set, which was built on the Brooklyn
The interiors of the CIA were built in the
Brooklyn Armory, a large edifice built in 1901 for the United
States Cavalry. She also visited the CIA's headquarters in
Washington, D.C. and worked with Bearden to create sets for the
CIA's offices, Technical Room and Communications Room. Since the
lead character originally aspired to be a poet, Oppewall
incorporated many visual poetic symbols into the film, including a
large number of mirrors to represent the duplicity of the CIA,
full rigged ships
as symbols of the
state and eagle
symbols, which were used in
ironic situations such as suspect interrogations. Her team tracked
down the right set dressings and also found authentic teletype
machines, reel-to-reel tape recorders and radios used in the CIA
during that time.
The music for the film was by Bruce
and Marcelo Zarvos
replaced James Horner
, who left the
project due to creative differences.
Edward Wilson, the character played by Matt Damon, is based at
least in part on James Jesus
, the long-serving director of the CIA's counter-intelligence
staff who also
fell victim to intense paranoia during his career, and covert operations
specialist Richard Bissell
. Bill Sullivan, the
character played by Robert De Niro, is based on William Stephenson
and William Joseph Donovan
Hurt's character Phillip Allen is likely based on former CIA
Director Allen Dulles
, while Lee Pace
's character Richard Hayes shares some
similarities, including a similar name, to Dulles' eventual
successor Richard Helms
British operative turned Soviet mole, Arch Cummings, bears some
similarities to Kim Philby
(who fled to
the USSR after being exposed and spent his last years friendless
and mired in alcoholism). The character Yuri Modin shares similar
characteristics to Soviet defector Anatoliy Golitsyn
, and the character of
Dr. Ibanez bears some similarities to Jacobo Arbenz
In May, 2007, CIA's historians
an article referencing the film's depiction of the OSS and CIA, and
discussing factual details surrounding the actual persons on whom
some of the film's characters were based. The article also
addressed inaccurate but enduring beliefs that Yale's famous secret
society Skull and
Bones was an incubator of the U.S.
Oscar-winning actor Joe
Pesci appears in one scene as a Mafia boss ("Joseph Palmi")
who, it is implied in the film, is a fictionalized composite of
Santo Trafficante Jr. and
Sam Giancana (in one scene it is
mentioned that Castro has seized "three of [Palmi's] casinos and
thrown him out of Cuba."
fact, Castro did nationalize several casinos owned by both Chicago
and Florida organized crime interests). The CIA recruited such
mafiosi for multiple assassination attempts against Fidel Castro.
The story thread, however, is not fully developed in the film.
Also, this marked Pesci's return to acting after an eight year
absence from the screen following Lethal Weapon 4
Bay of Pigs Invasion leak
The film takes many liberties with the historic events it portrays.
Notably, the film inaccurately depicts the Bay of Pigs Invasion
failure as the
result of a leak within the agency. In fact, the CIA's own analysis
came to the conclusion that the Bay of Pigs Invasion failed because
of a combination of incompetent planning and execution, unrealistic
expectations, and poor security.
James K. Galbraith
wrote that the Taylor Report on
the Bay of Pigs Invasion showed that CIA's knowledge about the leak
was part of the bigger plan to instigate a full-scale invasion
after the surviving assailants would be paraded in Havana on their
way to prison.
One of the great travesties of the Cold War surfaced on
April 29, 2000 when the Washington Post reported the
declassification in full of General Maxwell Taylor's June, 1961
special report on the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Partial versions of this document have been available
But only now did its darkest secret spill.
Here is what Taylor reported to Kennedy.
The Russians knew the date of the invasion (Therefore,
Castro also knew.) The CIA, headed by Allen
Dulles, knew that the Russians knew (Therefore, they knew the
invasion would fail).
The leak did not come from the invasion force; it had
happened before the Cuban exiles were
themselves briefed on the date.
Kennedy was not informed.
Nor, of course, were the exiles.
And knowing all this, Dulles ordered the operation
WWII announcement timing
In an early scene, Edward and Laura are shown at an evening dance,
which is interrupted by an announcer stating that they have just
learnt that Britain and France have declared war on Germany.
However, the public announcement of Britain's declaration of war
was made by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
in a radio address
to the British nation on 3 September 1939 at 11:15 am, after
Germany had failed to end hostilities in Poland by 11:00 am. This
public radio address would have taken place at 05.15 am the same
day on the US East Coast (since Britain had daylight saving or
summer time, while the USA then did not). It is not plausible that
some 16 or so hours would elapse before this announcement became
public knowledge in the USA.
The Good Shepherd
was released on December 22, 2006 in
2,215 theaters grossing $9.9 million on its opening weekend. It
went on to make $59.9 million in North America and $39.5 million in
the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $99.4 million.
The film received mixed reviews with the review tallying website
reporting that 89
out of the 161 reviews they tallied were positive for a score of
56% and a certification of "rotten" (according to the website's
reports the film
has an aggregate metascore of 61/100 ("Generally favorable
reviews"). In her review for The
New York Times
wrote, "The Good Shepherd
is an origin story
about the C.I.A., and for the filmmakers that story boils down to
fathers who fail their sons, a suspect metaphor that here becomes
all too ploddingly literal", but praised De Niro's direction:
"Among the film’s most striking visual tropes is the image of
Wilson simply going to work in the capital alongside other
similarly dressed men, a spectral army clutching briefcases and
silently marching to uncertain victory". Kenneth Turan, in his
review for the Los Angeles
, praised Matt Damon's performance: "Damon, in his
second major role of the year (after The Departed
) once again demonstrates his
ability to convey emotional reserves, to animate a character from
the inside out and create a man we can sense has more of an
interior life than he is willing to let on".
Corliss also gave Damon a positive notice in his review: "Damon is
terrific in the role--all-knowing, never overtly expressing a
feeling. Indeed, so is everyone else in this intricate, understated
but ultimately devastating account of how secrets, when they are
left to fester, can become an illness, dangerous to those who keep
them, more so to nations that base their policies on them". In his
review for The New York
, Andrew Sarris
wrote, "Still, no previous American film has ventured into this
still largely unknown territory with such authority and emotional
detachment. For this reason alone, The Good Shepherd
must-see viewing". USA Today
the film three out of four stars and wrote, "What makes the story
work so powerfully is his focus on a multidimensional
individual—Wilson—thereby creating a stirring personal tale about
the inner workings of the clandestine government agency".
gave the film a "B" rating and Lisa Schwarzbaum praised De Niro's
direction and Damon's performance, noting the latter's maturation
as an actor.
magazine's David Ansen
wrote, "For the film's mesmerizing
first 50 minutes I thought De Niro might pull off the The Godfather
of spy movies ... Still,
even if the movie's vast reach exceeds its grasp, it's a
spellbinding history lesson". However, Peter Travers of
opined, "It's tough to slog through a movie that has no pulse". In
his review for the Chicago
, Jim Emerson wrote, "If you think George Tenet
's Central Intelligence Agency was
a disaster, wait until you see Robert De Niro's torpid, ineffectual
movie about the history of the agency". Peter Bradshaw in
gave the film two
out of five stars and criticized Damon's performance: "And why is
Damon allowed to act in such a callow, boring way? As ever, he
looks like he is playing Robin to some imaginary Batman at his
side, like Jimmy Stewart and his invisible rabbit. His nasal,
unobtrusive voice makes every line sound the same".
In 2007, the cast of The Good Shepherd
won the silver bear
of the prestigious Berlin film festival for outstanding artistic
contribution. It was the only American entry in 2007 to win a prize
at the festival.
said he would like to make two sequels to The Good
Shepherd, one bringing the action forward from 1961 to 1989
and the fall of the Berlin
Wall, the other following its protagonist, Edward
Wilson, up to the present day.
References to other fictional espionage works
The meeting between Edward and Ulysses' aide, the agent named
CARDINAL, makes reference Tom Clancy
novel The Cardinal of
wherein a direct mole within the Kremlin
serves American interests during the most tense periods of the Cold
- Internet Movie Database - Trivia