Who knows what American journalist Jake Geismer (George Clooney) expected to find in postwar Berlin? Peace, maybe. Or at least a story. But certainly not Lena (Cate Blanchett), his beautiful, embittered one-time love. And not the trail of secrecy and deception that leads from Lena to the scheming young corporal (Tobey Maguire) who's her new lover...and to a murder no one seems interested in solving. Except Jake. Steven Soderbergh directs three of today's top talents in this zigzag thriller that's both an atmospheric homage to 1940s filmmaking and a deft modern film noir. The Good German is "haunting and hypnotic, it's pure moviegoing bliss" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone).
Despite its flaws, The Good German
is a welcome gift for every film lover who laments that "they don't make 'em like they used to." Steven Soderbergh's affectionate, knowing tribute to the black-and-white melodramas of Hollywood's golden age may lack the emotional depth and romantic passion of Michael Curtiz's Casablanca
--the 1946 classic it intentionally emulates--but as Soderbergh approximates Curtiz's studio style, he delivers a shimmering, shadowy reminder that movies can be enjoyed for the sheer pleasure of their craftsmanship. Once again serving as his own cinematographer (credited as "Peter Andrews"), Soderbergh went to great lengths to technically and aesthetically re-create the look and feel of a Curtiz production, and Joseph Kanon's source novel (adapted by Quiz Show
screenwriter Paul Attanasio) provides a twisting plot set around the historical Potsdam conference in post-World War II Germany. An American military journalist, Capt. Jake Geismer (George Clooney) is in rubble-strewn Berlin to cover the event, and is quickly drawn into a murder plot involving his appointed driver (Tobey Maguire), an old flame-turned-wartime prostitute (Cate Blanchett) and her missing husband, a scientist who possesses pivotal secrets coveted by Americans and Russians in a pre-Cold War bid for power.
Violence, sexual content, and salty dialogue make it clear that this R-rated drama is a brashly contemporary homage to films of a bygone era, and not a slavish attempt to copy the past. This yields mixed results in terms of the film's overall appeal; it's gorgeous to look at, but the plot and performances exist in a vacuum, and the entire film feels oddly disengaged from any sense of genuine human emotion. It's probably fair to say that Soderbergh had more fun making the film than most people will have watching it. And yet, as Clooney's character is repeatedly beaten and deceived on his path to cynical enlightenment, The Good German has many qualities that make it recommendable, not the least being the pleasure of following a talented director as he indulges his penchant for bold experimentation. --Jeff Shannon