GOOD GERMAN, THE
US war correspondent Jake Geismer (George Clooney) returns to Berlin at war's end, to cover the 1945 Potsdam Peace Conference. Like everyone in Berlin, Jake's driver, Corporal Tully (Tobey Maguire), is busy wheeling and dealing. Soon after he discovers that his old pre-war flame Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) is now Tully's girlfriend, Tully ends up in the Russian zone with 100,000 Marks in his pockets and a bullet in his back. Jake finds himself drawn into the mystery of this murder, why both the American and Russian authorities look the other way and what it was that Tully was trying to peddle on the black market.
Review by Louise Keller:
If this noirish mystery thriller had been made in the mid 40s at the time Joseph Kanon's novel is set, chances are Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman would have been cast as the US war correspondent and his German former girlfriend. In fact, there's an airport scene that will bring instant memories of Casablanca. But Casablanca, The Good German, is not. There is no instant love affair with the characters, nor do we desperately care about their future together.
But, there are other compelling reasons to see Steven Soderbergh's stylishly haunting and enigmatic film. Firstly, Soderbergh's moody direction, editing and black and white cinematography is a magnet that lures us into the shadows of Berlin as the war draws to a close and everyone is scrambling for survival. It's a pleasure to listen to Thomas Newman's beautifully unsettling music, and if charisma was counted on a scale of 1 to 10, George Clooney and Cate Blanchett would easily leave the single digits behind. With his classic good looks, Clooney easily fits into the era, while the bewitching chameleon Blanchett is every bit the femme fatale. She is sensual and mysterious and Blanchett gets every detail right - from her melancholy body language to her excellent German accent.
Surprisingly, Soderbergh tells his story from three points of view: firstly from that of Tobey Maguire's corrupt wheeler dealer, then Clooney's cynical war correspondent and finally from Blanchett's as the desperate Jewish wife of a former SS officer. The device is unexpected and in some ways alienates us from all the characters. Set at an explosive time in history when Truman, Churchill and Stalin make their way to Potsdam to delineate European borders, tension is rife at every turn. It is impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. After all, the war is over, and as Clooney observes, 'In the good old days you could tell the bad guys by who was shooting at you.'
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As soon as the black and white Warner Bros logo lights up the screen to the heaving music, Thomas Newman channelling the iconic composers of 1940s Hollywood dramas, we know we are about to be treated to some cinematic style play. Luckily, the content is as good as the form, as Steven Soderbergh massages his fond memories of the golden (if sometimes black and white) days of movies with a noirish sensibility. The flawed characters, the dark shadows, the secret agendas and the betrayals all played out against the romantic tussle around a gorgeous dame. Enter Cate Blanchett as Lena Brandt, femme fatale but in a WWII guise, whose husband - yes, she's married, but where is Mr Brandt - was personal secretary to a German war scientist. This latter is a much wanted breed in immediate post war Berlin, as both the Russians and the Americans scour the rubble to take home scientists who had worked on the rocket programs.
The complex story is well handled, as the rekindled romance between Jake and Lena hits the rocks of her damaged history. Everyone does things to survive in a war, and the film's underlying theme, although not original, is nonetheless powerful: how well do we really know anyone, even our lovers? What are humans capable of to survive? A lot.
Cate Blanchett's German is even better than her refined German accent, George Clooney is an engaging anti hero and Tobey Maguire finally gets to play a dark character and he relishes it. The performances match the film's retro mood, making the film play like an old movie, down to the interlaced archival footage which adds authenticity to the film's tone.
The film's final scene is in loving homage to Casablanca, but the mood is darker; The Good German is both a technical and dramatic achievement, a film for mature audiences who don't need iPods to avoid boredom.
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GOOD GERMAN, THE (MA)
CAST: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Dominic Comperatore, Dave Power, John Roeder, Jack Thompson
PRODUCER: Ben Cosgrove, Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
SCRIPT: Paul Attanasio (novel by Joseph Kanon)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven Soderbergh
EDITOR: Steven Soderbergh
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philip Messina
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 8, 2007
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.