Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd, which tells the story of the CIA from its origins in the early days of World War II (as the OSS) to the Bay of Pigs invasion, opened while I was in Europe and so I don't know much about the initial critical response. But because Eric Roth, who wrote the screenplay, has been telling me about the film for well over a year, I went to see it as soon as I could after my return to the U.S.

First of all, The Good Shepherd is a very thoughtful--and thought-provoking--film that is well worth seeing. But don't expect to fall in love with any of the characters (even though they are played by a star-studded cast) and don't expect to leave the theater feeling good. The story is one of idealism surrendered and virtue corroded by the burdens of secrecy. It is, in fact, painful to witness Edward Wilson--the main character, played by Matt Damon--try to deal with the tension between the moral demands of his job with the Agency and his personal moral responsibilities.

It is an open question whether the tenuous ethical position that Wilson holds at the end of The Good Shepherd is a consequence of his own failings or an inevitable result of his circumstances, but in either case the outcome is very problematic for those who would like to believe that those who make foreign policy can be successful without selling their souls.