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The Good Shepherd (3/10)

by Tony Medley

Matt Damon is a smart guy. He pretty obviously knows he has the range  of an amoeba, so he chooses roles that require just that amount of ability. In “The Departed” earlier this year, he played an emotionless bad cop. In this, he plays Edward Wilson, an emotionless spook, based, apparently, on controversial CIA spook James Angleton, who searched for years for a mole but couldn’t find Aldrich Ames, who was right under his nose all the time.

Just to tell you how bad this movie is, there are a couple of scenes with Matt Damon and Robert De Niro. Hard as it might be to believe, De Niro’s performance is so inept that when he is onscreen with Damon, Damon looks like the master. Can you imagine how bad an actor must be to make Damon look good? Maybe De Niro needed a good director to get him motivated.

Written by Eric Roth (“The Insider,” among others), and directed by De Niro, the film is hardly laudatory of the United States or the CIA. Wilson, the protagonist and through whom we are intended to learn about the CIA, is a cold jerk who ignores his wife and son, Eddie Wilson, Jr. (Edward Redmayne).

Angelina Jolie is listed as one of the stars, but she really doesn’t have much of a role. She plays Wilson’s wife, Margaret “Clover.” In fact, I couldn’t understand what Margaret ever saw in Wilson in the first place. She’s a real hottie and seduces him at a party. Why? He’s a 14-carat loser with a personality like a fire hydrant. She becomes pregnant, so he ditches his hearing-impaired girl friend, Laura (Tammy Blanchard, who gives about the only good performance in the movie, despite the presence of people like Keir Dullea and Billy Crudup and Timothy Hutton and William Hurt), marries her, and then basically abandons her to his job. There is no way on earth that any woman, even during WWII would stay with a turkey like Wilson. Her character is simply unbelievable.

The film traces the origins of the CIA to Yale’s secret society, Skull & Bones. I also couldn’t figure out why these elites wanted Wilson to join because he didn’t have a personality or anything else that would seem to make him compatible with this group, which includes in its roster the patrician Bushes (Senator Prescott and his Presidential son and grandson) and neo-patrician John Kerry.

Not surprisingly (this is Hollywood, after all), the film makes America look bad and paints the Soviets as just guys trying to do a job. Frankly, I’m getting sick of the moral equivalence that is showing up all over Hollywood these days. These people aren’t stupid; they know that history is made by the people who write it, not the people who do it. So Clint Eastwood paints the soldiers of Imperial Japan as just guys like our marines and now De Niro and Roth paint our spooks as just the same, if not worse, than the Soviets during the Cold War.

The movie has a story line, I guess, although you have to strain to get involved. Generally speaking (and there are exceptions), if a movie doesn’t have an admirable protagonist, it’s not very entertaining. This is not one of the exceptions.

Over 2 ˝ hours long, fortunately this movie is so slow and boring not many people will see it.

December 26, 2006