In The Good Shepherd, Matt Damon plays Edward Wilson, a functionary who works at the CIA during its early years. Damon plays Wilson as a tight-lipped, buttoned-down professional, the kind of bright and dependable guy the organization recruits to oversee its spy operations. Screenwriter Eric Roth (Munich) has clearly done his homework, giving us the sense that we're observing something strictly off-limits to regular citizens. Still, the movie slogs through most of its long running time.
In his second turn in the director's chair, Robert De Niro fails to come up with an effective narrative. Adding to his difficulty is the film's structure, which jumps around in time to show scenes from Wilson's childhood, his recruitment in 1939 during his college career, his years in Europe during the war, and his years at the CIA's Langley headquarters. The out-of-order sequencing makes it impossible to get swept up in the story.
Further muddling the plot is a melodramatic storyline about Wilson's loveless marriage to Margaret "Clover" Russell (Angelina Jolie). Although you might think any marriage involving Damon and Jolie would sizzle with sex appeal, this affair droops with indifference. De Niro can't figure out how to make a juicy story out of characters who play things close to the vest.