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Posted on Apr 7, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

The Good German – Movie Review

By Paul Glasser

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The Good German is an interesting film-noir experiment wrapped up in the political intrigue of post-World War II Berlin.

Director Steven Soderbergh uses black and white film, along with old cameras in an attempt to re-create the style and feel of classic noir cinema. Although it comes close, there are almost as many awkward shots as there are beautiful and sublime scenes. Most notably, too many modern anachronisms break the sense of nostalgia, including a brutal rape scene, frequent vulgarity and graphic violence.

Samples of file-footage from post-war Berlin are also intercut with film shot by Soderbergh and, although it comes close to re-creating the gritty landscape, it falls short. The streets in The Good German are strewn with rubble, although none of the buildings seem to have been severely damaged. The piles of bricks look almost like window-dressing. Also, the building facades seem too crisp and clean, even with a superficial layer of soot and grime applied.

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However, the cast contains all the classic icons of movies like Casablanca” and The Maltese Falcon. Capt. Jake Geismar (George Clooney) proudly displays the “war correspondent” badge on his uniform, but never actually writes an article! Instead, he spends most of his time following shadowy figures down dark alleys. With the same determination and guts of Sam Spade, Geismar takes punches from goons and relentlessly pursues Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett): the cool, strong-willed femme fatale. But, in reality, Geismar is really just a hard-boiled private gumshoe who’s wearing a US Army uniform instead of a trench coat and fedora.

Patrick Tully (Tobey Maguire) is a corporal in the occupation force and works in the motor pool as Geismar’s driver. He is the required fall-guy, but his performance as a violent and explosive character feels a little forced. His sex scene with Lena is almost robotic, and is one of the many shots that interrupt the flow of the movie.

The film is filled with the standard film-noir mechanisms, such as betrayal, double-crosses and deception, which will led the characters and audience through a twisted tale of intrigue.

The backdrop for the film is the post-war conference at Potsdam, where Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt meet to discuss the political geography of Europe. While lip service is paid to issues like war-crimes and the birth of the Cold War, most of the film centers on the cost of personal survival and the true definition of justice.

Overall, the Soderbergh’s film recalls the style and techniques of the film-noir detective movies he aspires to reproduce, but it misses the mark. There are a number shadowy, gritty moments, but they are few and far between.

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