The Good German

28 11 2007

The Good GermanAs I’ve mentioned previously on this site, George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh have a history of collaborating on as many fringe projects as crowd-pleasers (though even their less mainstream films still have some sort of appeal for wider audiences). Falling more into the former camp is The Good German, Soderbergh’s attempt to recreate the film noir genre.

Of course, most filmmakers would be content to stick to using lighting, camera angles, editing and maybe black and white film to help set the tone, but Soderbergh has gone all-out, reverting to the technology of the era, including mics, lighting and lenses, to create a truly authentic experience. Couple this with the acting style and the dramatic film score by Thomas Newman, and the illusion that this is indeed a film from the ’40s is almost complete.

Yet somewhat incongruent to all this effort on Soderbergh’s part is a script that includes sex scenes and swearing. It’s not that Paul Attanasio’s screenplay is bad — it’s actually very good — but for this purpose it just doesn’t suit.

Set in post-war Germany in 1945, the plot follows journalist Jake Geismer (Clooney), who has been sent to cover the Potsdam conference but soon finds himself caught up in something larger. Cate Blanchett plays Lena Brandt, a prostitute and old flame of Geisner’s, whose story seems much more interesting than she’s willing to let on. And finally, there’s Tobey Maguire as Geisner’s assigned driver, cast against type and excelling as a seemingly “nice guy” with a mean, ugly streak underneath.

The Good German still

It’s hard not to admire Soderbergh’s audacity in sticking to outdated technology in order to bring us a film that feels caught in the era in which it is set. The question remains, however: is it enjoyable?

For film students, it certainly is, because it’s an experiment in film technique. Furthermore, it’s hard not to grin during the final scene in particular (which I won’t spoil but will note that the film’s poster is a big clue). But as a cinematic experience on its own terms, The Good German comes up short.

The performances, however, are all uniformly excellent, with Cate Blanchett in particular seemingly existing in another era — she truly is one of the great actresses of our time.

The Good German is a fine film that’s worth seeking out if you’re someone who isn’t afraid of the quirky and unusual. Is it a great film? No, but it’s very good nonetheless.

(star)(star)(star)(half-a-star)(no star)

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