Movie Review: The Good German

By Amy Lamare, July 22, 2006

Director Steven Soderbergh (SSODE) loves movies and the art of making movies, that much is clear from his diverse body of work. In The Good German (GDGRM), Soderbergh maybe loves movies a little bit too much. The needed space between a director and his project simply is not there. One gets the feeling that Soderbergh was so in love with his medium this time around that his normally straightforward storytelling got a bit lost in the details. But let’s back up for a moment, shall we?

In The Good German Soderbergh searches for his Rosebud, his raison d’etre, his latest pushing of the cinematic envelope. He doesn’t quite reach it, unfortunately. (And I am a big Soderbergh fan, both of the man and his work, having had the pleasure of getting to know him on a film shoot 10 years ago.) In seeking to recreate Casablanca, Soderbergh sells his own talent as well as the talent of his cast short.

George Clooney (GCLOO) stars as an American war reporter who returns to Berlin under the ruse of covering the final push by the Allies to take that city and end the war. Only our boy George is not so much interested in the destruction around him. He’s really back in Germany to seek out his former flame, a lusty Marlena Dietrich-esque brunette German named Lena. Cate Blanchett (CBLAN), magnificent as always, infuses every inch of Lena with a 1940s femme fatale persona. Clooney is met at the airport and driven into town by a young corporal played by Tobey Maguire (TMAGU). Kudos to Maguire for stepping out of the box and testing his acting chops. However, where Clooney’s lovelorn war correspondent is laconic, Maguire’s corporal comes across more like Gomer Pyle on amphetamines.

Film is lensed in black and white by Soderbergh’s DP alias Peter Andrews. What he was trying to do with the shadows and contrast (or lack thereof) in the film is beyond this viewer. The whites are blinding and the blacks too saturated. There is not enough gray, not enough shadow for this shadowy tale of love, war and betrayal.

Clooney soon finds that Lena is in a relationship with Maguire. The war has changed her. Where once she was a happy gal, she is now very dramatic and dark. Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Donnie Darko) adapted the Joseph Kanon novel.

Soderbergh’s attempt to recreate a 1940s style film noir in look, feel, and story falls short of the benchmark he set for himself. Key to the Casablanca era of films is the snappy, sparse, to the point dialogue. Think of Bogey and Bacall. Little was said, much was conveyed. Clooney may be the Sexiest Man Alive, but he’s no Bogey. When you see Clooney and Blanchett in The Good German, little is said, little is conveyed. And that is the point from which this film devolves.

In focusing so much on the style of the settings, Soderbergh lost the thread of the story. Shot entirely on old unused back lot streets gave him license to experiment. But the end result is too slick, too smooth, too flat to be truly compared to the films Soderbergh sought to pay homage to. Think of Sex, Lies and Videotape, think of Traffic and Erin Brockovich. Soderbergh has always excelled at telling a story and setting a scene so perfect for the story that it becomes an invisible character of its own. In The Good German the setting and lighting and lack of shadows and contrast in the black and white world become too much of a character and overshadow the ghostly, under drawn characters.

Better luck next time, Steven.

This work is the property of Stock Exchange and Amy Lamare. It is not to be reused, reprinted or stolen under any conditions.

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