Oldie but Goodie: 'Good Shepherd' Taps Into Blue-Blooded Vein of Secrecy Matt Damon plays a coldhearted CIA agent in Robert De Niro's convoluted spy tale. Matt Damon plays a coldhearted CIA agent in Robert De Niro's convoluted spy tale. By Stephen Hunter
Gentlemen do not read each other's mail, unless of course they don't want to be wiped off the face of the Earth. Thus was born the Office of Strategic Services in 1942 and then the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947, expressly to read other gentlemen's mail.
But once you enter that neck of the woods, the problems do not go away. They multiply. Who reads the mail of our fellows who read the other fellows' mail? And who reads their mail? And on and on it goes, a wilderness of penetrated missives called counterintelligence, and that is the subject proper of Robert De Niro's brilliant if uncompromising movie "The Good Shepherd."
The film is a roman a clef loosely linked to a CIA officer of some fame named James Jesus Angleton -- code name "Mother" -- who became head of the company's counterintelligence division, and thus was tasked with reading the mail of our mail-readers. He was brilliant and dedicated, but maybe he read a little too much mail by the end. His job was to find the goblins in the woodpile, and by the end he saw goblins under every log. The movie's impossible mission, which it decides to accept, is to explain this to us.