Spy story with brains

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2007, 12:00am

Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd is a suspense-filled spy thriller exploring the origins of the CIA and the methods used by wartime spies to annihilate their enemies.

Revolving around Edward Wilson, a humourless US spymaster superbly played by Matt Damon, the film traces the origins of the agency and the confrontations between post-second world war US and its communist arch-enemies.

Many of the characters are based on real people (Wilson is an mix of US spymasters James Jesus Angleton and Richard Bissell). Original footage of events like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion add to the realism.

Puzzled by a secret tape and photograph which could reveal who botched the Cuban operation, a team of foreign intelligence operatives led by Wilson sets out solve the mystery.

The film jumps back to show the young Wilson inducted into Yale's Skull and Bones society, where the founder of the Office of Strategic Services (Robert De Niro) recruits his men. The OSS later became the CIA.

Unlike conventional spy movies, which rely on violence and bloodshed to sustain the viewers' attention, The Good Shepherd reels them in through powerful character studies of the main characters.

Damon oozes ruthless charm in his role. Coupled with powerful performances by a high-calibre supporting cast, the director darkly portrays a world where nobody can be trusted.