The Good Shepherd (2006)

(In theaters, December 2006) Given the traditional association between spy stories and popcorn movies, it’s a surprise to find that this historical drama is far more interested in the emotional burden of espionage than in gunfights and thrilling chase sequences. Matt Damon is surprisingly restrained in the lead role, even when surrounded by a fabulous cast that includes director Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and many other familiar names. But this restraint has a point: the script is an intricate mixture of secrets, betrayals, codes and detection: Closer to John LeCarré’s brand of dreary spy fiction, The Good Shepherd is a grown-up entry in the spy genre. But like many films dedicated to an older audience, it’s also dull, dreary and far too long for its own sake: Clocking in at a languid two hours and a half, The Good Shepherd tests its viewer’s patience without mercy. Self-consciously ponderous and deathly serious (there’s maybe three laughs in the entire picture), it’s not without qualities, but it really requires its audience to work in order to get at them. CIA history buffs will appreciate, but others are likely to keep staring at their watches.

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