You can see what drew director Robert DeNiro and co-producer Francis Ford Coppola to this film about the beginnings of the CIA. It resonates with many of the same themes as their great triumph Godfather II. In both stories, men make brutal choices, chosing expedience over process, secrecy over fairness, while anxious and bitter wives stay in the background and in the dark and children grow up both spoiled and needy and ultimately pay the price.
But this time, it happens to the good guys.
Well, maybe not so good after all, and that’s the point.
This is not James Bond. There are no impeccably tailored dinner jackets to wear while sipping stirred martinis, no brainy bombshells to seduce, no cool gadgets, no sportscars. This is dirty — in all senses of the word — tradecraft. This is betrayal upon betrayal, with the similarities between opponents greater than their differences. You never know who is on your side, you never know who is on the other side, and you never know who just switched. You only know that treachery will come from the last place you expect.
Matt Damon plays Edward Wilson, who learns about secrets when he is still a little boy, and learns more about secrets when he is inducted into Yale’s famous Skull and Bones club, a club so private its members are not permitted to acknowledge their affiliation. Asked to spy on a favorite teacher, Edward does not hesitate to turn him in. And soon he is involved in helping to set up the new Central Intelligence Agency in post WWII Europe.
Edward loves a sweet deaf girl but marries the daughter of a senator (Angelina Jolie), then leaves her for years at a time to run covert operations. The weakest part of the film is the family stress; the professional struggles are far more absorbing.
Parents should know that this movie has some peril and spy-type violence. Characters are injured and killed. There are sexual references and situations, some explicit, with references to adultery and homosexuality. Characters smoke and drink. They also engage in illegal and treacherous behavior.
Families who see this movie should talk about what was accomplished here, at what cost. They will enjoy visiting The International Spy Museum in Washington DC, which includes a seal of the United States presented to a US ambassador to the USSR that hung in his office…until someone realized it had a bug in it. The Museum also features tours of real-life local spots associated with clandestine activity.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy miniseries and its sequel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Three Days of the Condor, and The Parallax View.