The Good German **1/2
If there is anything to say about Steve Soderbergh it's that he is great at exploring different styles of film making. Starting off from very small indie flicks, he slowly expanded. Last year he directed "Bubble," and became the first film maker to make a film that was released in theatre, and then released on DVD and on HDTV four days later. Now he's doing "The Good German," a flawed film with a comes to story, and even some of the acting, but pretty much technically perfect in every way. From looking at the poster, you could probably tell that this will be reminiscent of classic post-war films of the past-and it is. Soderbergh shot this as if he was making "Casablanca," only I highly doubt that it was remain as timeless as that does. It pains me to say this, because I've said it a lot this year, but "The Good German" is once again an example of a film maker concentrating more on the look and feel of the film, as opposed to the actual storyline. And once again, because of that, the film fails to be anything special.
"The Good German" begins in 1945 Berlin, where they are getting ready to celebrate the end of World War II. Jake Geismer is a journalist sent to Berlin to cover the peace, as well as the Potsdam Peace Conference, where the Allies plan on discussing what to do about Germany, and their crimes against humanity. Jake's driver is Tully, a bright and eager young boy who is dating a prostitute, and promises to get her out of Berlin. Jake has a connection to Lena, as she used to be his mistress years ago. Jake, still in love with her, decides to help get her out of Berlin, since there is no reason why she should be in trouble for the crimes that Germany caused. Tully doesn't like Jake very much, and even ends up getting beaten up when he tries to stop Tully from taking Lena out of a bar. Things get more complicated when Tully is found dead in the middle of the woods, and things look fishy-a corporal being dead on the night before the peace conference. The government thinks that it'll be for the best if Lena is able to say where he husband, Emil, would be, as it might clear up some things just a little bit. Emil was the right hand man of a Nazi scientist, and has notebooks describing Nazi activity that will benefit not only the American military, but the Russian one as well.
Soderbergh's method of telling this story is exactly like those of the 40's. The film is in black and white from beginning to end, which I could tell is already turning people off. All of it was shot on sets, and nothing was actually on a location. When the characters drive in cars, the background is all green screen, actually showing backgrounds from these old films. The dialogue is the same, and even the camera angles. A lot of it is much more simple than your average Hollywood film. Soderbergh apparently shot most of this himself, as he usually does, and he does do a good job at creating a feel for the time. At times it was strange watching a film that resembled a classic, and then seeing faces like George Clooney and Cate Blanchett. And for that it is an interesting experience. The opening credit sequence is very simple too, with the name of the film and the credits that were shown at the time-music, producer, writer. It doesn't get too fancy. Lastly, the music swells up often and is very over the top, as loud as it can be for the big scenes, and lower and more classy for the more quiet ones. With the music I was a little upset. Thomas Newman does it, and he is one of my favorite film composers simply because he always manages to be unique and original. This score I wasn't too impressed with, even though he did a good job getting a feel for the time period. But it could have been a little more special. I wasn't floored by it. I expect this from some other people, but not him.
The story lacked any real intensity though, and I felt that the script could have been spiced up just a little bit. At times it was tedious, and the film is very slow. George Clooney is not as his best here, so I guess he's still a little tired from his massive "Syriana" and "Good Night and Good Luck" 2005. Cate Blanchett was once again terrific. The woman is quite amazing. She manages to do three films since October, all of them a completely different character than the first time. If Lon Chaney is the Man of a Thousand Faces, than the same could said about Blanchett, as a woman. How she fits into such a range of parts is beyond my comprehension. Here she is the femme fatale character, in the middle of all the attention from almost everybody-all of them having a different motivation for needing her. Toby Maguire doesn't have much use in this film, and luckily, since he's Tully, he's killed off in the first act. He's far too over the top, and seems to be doing a spoof of the type of acting that is needed for the time instead of actually being serious. And so that is why I can't quite recommend "The Good German." At times the script is set aside for the sake of the technical aspect-and with that it does it perfectly. Soderbergh needs to try and strengthen the writing of his work more often instead of taking whatever draft is in front of him. It's impossible to substitute callow writing with amazing style. There needs to be more of a balance. For the experience alone "The Good German" is worth seeing, but don't be wowed by the story or acting. I have a feeling that this will only be recognized for it's technical work, and at that its deserving.