The Good German - Review
Review by Jack Foley
THE best thing about Steven Soderbergh is that he’s a director who dares to be different. For every crowd-pleaser such as Ocean’s 11, 12 or [incoming] 13 there’s something more serious and thoughtful waiting in the wings.
The Good German, his latest, is a visually stunning exercise in classic film-making – a ’40s-based post World War II thriller that sets out to recapture the look and feel of films like Casablanca and The Third Man.
Sadly, what works on a visceral level, lacks the emotional attraction of the pictures it’s emulating, emerging as a slightly disappointing triumph of style over substance.
The components are certainly in place for a cracking experience – what with an interesting storyline that draws from past and current events, as well as a top-drawer cast featuring Soderbergh regular George Clooney as well as Tobey Maguire, Cate Blanchett and Beau Bridges.
But after a promising start, the film becomes lost amid an overly complex narrative (from Paul Attanasio) and too many characters that simply aren’t worth caring about.
It’s 1945 and celebrated US war correspondent Jake Geismer (Clooney) arrives in Berlin to cover the Potsdam Peace Conference, as America, Britain and Russia prepare to carve up Germany.
Guiding him around the war-torn city is the volatile Corporal Tully (Maguire), a racketeer who has his fingers in one too many pies, as well as an ongoing relationship with Geismer’s old flame, Lena (Blanchett), a housewife turned prostitute.
When the body of an American soldier turns up where it shouldn’t, Geismer finds himself drawn into a murder investigation involving the black market, V2 rockets, official secrets and betrayal.
For the most part, The Good German is a fascinating – if flawed – experiment in filmmaking that attempts to merge the contemporary with the classic.
But in trying to recreate the style of films like Casablanca, Soderbergh was always likely to leave himself open to criticism, particularly as The Good German falls some way short of that benchmark.
On the plus side, Clooney invests Geismer with the smooth-talking charm and charisma he brings to most of his roles and clearly revels in the chance to finally act like a vintage movie star, while Maguire is excellent as the sinister Tully, enjoying the chance to play against type.
The film’s obvious war-time parallels with current events in Iraq lends certain conversations extra relevance, and the look of the film is a real treat for film buffs (especially in the way Soderbergh has expertly recreated the golden era of cinema).
But sadly all that good work is hindered by Attanasio’s frustrating screenplay that’s a little too clever for its own good and which gets rid of one of its biggest assets far too early.
Blanchett, too, seems a little too distracted by trying to evoke memories of Dietrich and fails to make her key character anything approaching likeable. It robs the film of any worthwhile emotional investment.
Come the drawn out conclusion, viewers may be scratching their heads and asking “is that it?”
It’s a shame given the admirable intentions surrounding the film as a whole, and it’s willingness to try and provide audiences with something different.
The Good German is, therefore, a failed experiment – but one that’s certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of the filmmaking craft.
Running time: 107 mins