The Good German (2006)

by | Jun 5, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Good German (2006)

Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Beau Bridges
Directed by Seven Soderbergh
Written by Paul Attanasio
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video: 1.37:1 full screen, Black and White
Audio: English, 5.1 Dolby Surround; Spanish, 5.1 Dolby Surround; French, 5.1 Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: none
Length: 108 minutes
Rating: ***

As a filmmaker, director Steven Soderbergh is not afraid to take risks. Because of this, his range of projects is a bit wider than most other directors. There are his more Hollywood-based fare like Out of Sight and Ocean’s Eleven (and Twelve and now Thirteen). These movies are fun. And then there are his more experimental films that challenge our notions of traditional filmmaking like sex, lies and videotape, Solaris, and Traffic. These movies are challenging. However, Soderbergh, like anyone who takes risks, doesn’t succeed every time. There are some failures and some near successes. The Good German falls into the category of the near success.  Soderbergh is far too good and far too ambitious a filmmaker to make a simply bad movie, though Ocean’s Twelve comes pretty close. But that’s another review.

The Good German is a beautiful film. Shot in black and white, it is gloriously lit and framed. Soderbergh based the look on film noir classics—intense shadows, sensual backlighting, and radiant highlights. To say that it is atmospheric doesn’t even begin to come close to its visual quality. He also includes archival footage from 1940s Germany after World War II. The differences between the new and vintage footage are slight and the movie visually hangs together beautifully as a whole. That’s quite an accomplishment. {It’s at least partially because he didn’t shoot widescreen – the archival 4:3 B&W footage fits perfectly with his 4:3 B&W footage…Ed.] -The musical score is another success. Thomas Newman has composed a score that fits perfectly within this time period. It has the right mix of drama, bombast, and sentimentality. It carefully treads just under the line of parody without stepping over. The dialog is another successful period recreation—this time matching the actual speech of the time and the people and not just the safe patter of 1940s movie talk.

The characterizations and plot are where things go awry. The three main leads are all strong actors, but George Clooney and Cate Blanchett feel constrained and wooden. That may indeed fit with the acting styles of 60 plus years ago, and perhaps this is what Soderbergh intended, but it doesn’t work today. Toby Maguire is the only one who throws himself into the role. And he does so with intensity and zest. He easily steals every scene he’s in and he’s a joy to watch. [Sorry, but I could only think of Spiderman and thought he was the worst thing in the film…Ed.] My only criticism of Maguire is that he’s gone from the movie far too soon. He’s the best thing going in the movie and he’s only in the first 26 minutes of the film. Another misfire is the use of voiceover. Each of the three main characters has one instance of voiceover and all are pure examples of exposition—explaining major plot points and motivations. In one, the murderer is revealed in the voiceover. We don’t even get to see the murder happen. We’re just told who did it. This is probably the best, or worst, example of telling and not showing I’ve ever seen in a movie. For the record, it’s usually supposed to work the other way; you show and not tell. Coming from Soderbergh, this was surprising, to say the least.

The plot revolves around the missing scientist/husband of Cate Blanchett, whom the Germans, Russians and Americans are trying to find, and the interactions and manipulations between Clooney, Blanchett, and Maguire. The events of the movie are set in the aftermath of World War II, when the United States, England, and Russia met to decide the future of Germany. The ending gives a distinct nod to Casablanca. The Good German is a wonderful example of eye and ear candy, but it is hollow in its core. While not a complete success or failure, it does make for a slightly unsatisfying experience. But still, it is a beautiful film. [It would make a good double feature with The Third Man…Ed.]

– Hermon Joyner

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