Tuesday, 3 July 2007
THE GOOD GERMAN
The Good German (2006) dir. Steven Soderbergh
Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire
It was a good try but ultimately Steven Soderbergh’s ode to 1940’s Hollywood is a failed experiment. With “The Good German” director Soderbergh has sought to recreate the look, mood, and story of 40’s wartime thrillers, like “Casablanca”, “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Third Man”. There are many rumours about the film being shot with old school cameras, lenses, film stock and lighting equipment. It’s a great concept, but untrue. Soderbergh did use older lenses but he shot the film in colour and corrected to B&W. Though the film looks great and could pass as a Michael Curtiz or John Huston film it fails to bring us sufficient intrigue, suspense and romance that these classic films are famous for.
It’s 1945, the war in Europe is over, Captain Jake Geismer has arrived in war torn Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference as a journalist. He is met by his military driver Patrick Tully, who on the side is a black marketeer with his own personal agenda. Tully’s girlfriend Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) is a prostitute and may be using Tully to obtain transfer papers (a la “Casablanca”) to get her out of East Berlin. BTW Cate Blanchett, as a prostitute, is too much of a stretch, but I let that slide. Things are quickly complicated when unknown assailants show up asking about Lena’s deceased husband, Emil Brandt. Lena also happens to be Jake’s old flame. Is it a coincidence Lena, Tully and Jake have encountered each other at the same time? No. A dead body shows up at the turn of the first act and Jake proceeds to unravel the mysteries in traditional Dashiel Hammitt gumshoe fashion.
The whole point of the film seems to be to recreate “Casablanca”. Lena and Jake had a wartime fling much like Isla and Rick. There are no sparks between Blanchett and Jake though. Jake gazes forlornly at Lena on many occasions but Lena never reciprocates. Beware of SPOILERS AHEAD. Emil Brandt, who may or may not be dead, is built up as a character of certain knowledge that could harm the powers at be, yet when he does show up it’s an anti-climax. His knowledge is already written down in his diaries, so there’s no real need for him in the film. Perhaps this plot line would work if we felt Lena was torn between Jake and Emil (a la “Casablanca”), but she never expresses true love for either of them.
Jake is never really in any jeopardy in the film as well. Clooney does take at least four Brando-esque beatings and manages to pick himself up again for more torment, but does he do it all out of love for Lena? Or is he just doing his job getting to the bottom of the mystery? We’re never quite sure of his ultimate agenda. The ending is a complete let down and when the credit starts to roll the only thing you can think of is why I just donated two hours of my time to this film.
I’ve said it before in my essay comparing the careers of Spike Lee and Steven Soderbergh (CLICK HERE). Where Lee’s films show a progression of personal storytelling – some hits, some misses – Soderbergh just seems to be experimenting with novelty films or remakes of older films– “The Limey” (loosely inspired by “Point Blank”), “Traffic”, “Oceans 11”, “Solaris” and now “The Good German.” Does Steven Soderbergh have an original idea of his own? Though “Bubble” disappointed me it did show much promise that the man who made “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” is still in there somewhere. He’s a talented filmmaker and I have confidence he will pick himself up after thi misfire. His next film appears to be taking the torch from Clint Eastwood – two Che Guevara films, one set in 1956, the other in 1964. Another novelty? Please surprise us Steven.
Buy it here: The Good German
If you’re interested in the cinematography of the film click here. It’s the cinematography.com thread with a very good discussion of the film.
Here's the grossly misleading trailer: