Mar 12, 2007

Movie Review: "The Good German"

Details: 2007, USA, Drama, cert 15, 107 mins, Dir: Steven Soderbergh
With: Beau Bridges, Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Tobey Maguire
Summary: Based on the book by Joseph Kanon, where a US military correspondent becomes entangled in a former lover's attempt to escape postwar Berlin.

Of all the favourite movie classics in all the towns in all the world, they walk into mine. With their great big ironic hobnail boots. Director Steven Soderbergh and his leading man, George Clooney, have cooked up a monumentally misjudged, self-regarding and emptily cynical take on 1940s thrillers in general, and Casablanca in particular, by making a glossy pastiche noir set in the shattered ruins of 1945 Berlin. Clooney is the lantern-jawed American reporter, attached to cover the Potsdam conference, who stumbles upon a murder and an establishment cover-up; Cate Blanchett is the local shady lady with a secret and Tobey Maguire is the creepy American soldier who's way out of his depth.

Soderbergh uses the historically correct lighting, the right lenses, the accurate camera movements. He even closes with a "will-she-get-on-the-plane?" scene at a remote airport, which frankly looks as if he is trying for a completely humourless version of the last scene from Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam. Soderbergh has all the technical bells and whistles ... but where's the heart? The script is simply muddled and boring, with nothing like the original's passion and its compelling idealism and romance, all of which are sullied with fatuous condescension, largely by dropping in equally mismanaged references to The Third Man. Cate Blanchett should be brought to justice by some military police force for those ridiculous contact lenses that make her look as if someone's stuck two liquorice allsorts into her eye sockets. And that voice. She can make amends by standing over Ingrid Bergman's grave and announcing: "I raygredd zat I zpeurk een zis zully mogg-Erropin agzend."

Clooney plays Jake Geismer, a journalist who is, by implication, of stoutly decent German-American stock. He is embedded - as we now say - with US army personnel, so he appears throughout in uniform. Never at any time do we see him actually doing any journalistic work, and the unearned military prestige of that uniform gets very irritating after a while. Tobey Maguire is Cpl Tully, his unscrupulous driver, who is the violent boyfriend-cum-regular-customer of a beautiful prostitute, Lena (Blanchett) who mysteriously appears to have known Jake in Berlin before the war.

It all looks like the kind of 1940s movie we know and love. But there's an added level of nastiness. There's the c-word. Women get punched in the stomach. Added to this is an ostentatious and anachronistic debate about whether there are any good Germans at all, and whether the whole country, not just top Nazis, should be put on trial: inspired, I very much suspect, by Daniel Goldhagen's 1996 book Hitler's Willing Executioners.

It just looks like one big film-school pose. Clooney and Soderbergh co-produced Todd Haynes' brilliant Douglas Sirk update-pastiche Far From Heaven, and they may have intended something similar here. But Haynes's film honoured its original with real passion and it stood up on its own terms. The Good German is culpably feeble and detached, especially considering that the original was released in 1942, and conceived far earlier: when the future of the world actually was at stake and Hitler's defeat far from cut and dried. Bogart and Bergman really did look as if they were in love; Clooney and Blanchett look like they can't wait to get back to their respective trailers.[source: The Guardian]

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