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The International Writers Magazine
Film Review

The Good German
Directed by Steven Soderberg
Screenplay by Paul Attanasio
Based on the novel by Joseph Kanon

Cast: George Clooney,Tobey Maguire,Cate Blanchett, Ravil Isaynov, Beau Bridges
Sam North

"Whenever you say to yourself, "That's the worst thing I've ever heard ..." stick around. That's Berlin."

It’s film noir pastiche – neo noir and makes a considerable effort to bring a sense of authenticity to the screen. We begin with an academy screen format and music that would grace any Humphrey Bogart movie from the forties and we are immediately plunged in Harry Lime territory.

George Clooney plays a war correspondent who seems to have had a ‘good war’; no combat but his martini glasses broken by falling V2 rockets. Clooney is not playing a hero here. It the end of the war and it’s victory for the allies in a devastated Germany where no one is innocent. The victors quaff champagne, the German’s eat stale bread, when they can get it.

Stylistically The Good German is near perfect, (Soderberg being his own cameraman here) though there is a lack of genuine tension in the storyline which concerns Clooney returning to Berlin to cover the Potsdam peace conference. Here he meets his old stringer and lover Lena (Cate Blanchette). Only Lena is now the whore of lowly scheming car pool driver played with gusto by Tobey Maquire. Tully (Maquire) can see opportunities to make a buck everywhere, both sides of the political divide and he doesn’t want Clooney’s miserable face in his business. For him life is sweet. Lena was married to a nazi war criminal that is supposed to be dead, but is he? Clooney needs to know and he is curious how Lena survived, considering she is a Jew and all.

Tully discovers that the American brass are looking for her husband, who may not be dead and he sees an opportunity to sell Lena’s husband to the Russians, even though he has no idea where he might be. It’s a good scam and worth about 10,000 dollars to him. He intends to get Lena out of Berlin and live with her in England. Tully is just selfish, rather than a bad character and this is his one opportunity to make something of his life.
There’s double dealing, double crosses and Lena herself feels guilty for surviving. Certainly she doesn’t appreciate Clooney coming back into her life –even if he seems to want to help her. Jake Geismer (Clooney) is supposed to be an old hand at Berlin, but doesn’t seem comfortable there at all and never quite gets into it. There just isn’t enough for him to do in this film and he never gets angry or mad and just stumbles from one scene to the next.
Beau Bridges is one of the few playing American Brass who seems comfortable with his role here as the senior General cutting deals from under the nazi-hunters on his own side.

This is Catch 22 meets Casablanca meets The Third Man. Only we miss the genuine mischief that Orson Welles brought to The Third Man and the cynical wit of Catch 22 and although there is a great visual Casablanca moment at the end of the movie, it’s no Humphrey Bogart movie.

I really wanted to love this movie, but perhaps because it is a pastiche, and possibly because no one really ever seems in danger – it very much feels like a stage version of gripping movie than a movie. Everyone pretty much walks in, delivers the lines and walks off without passion or urgency or feeling. In the end, although the story is authentic enough – the Americans were there trying to recruit nazi German scientists from under the nose of the Russians – no matter what evil they had done, Clooney’s character seems more of a buffoon than journalist and far too naive considering the high stakes. One understands now why the Soderberg/Clooney film partnership is breaking up.

See The Good German for Cate Blanchette’s weary Dietrich performance or the technical achievement of a pretty accurate noir look, but in the end it is soulless and an exercise in genre filmmaking that could have been so much more.

© Sam North March 12 2007

Sam North is the author of 'Another Place to Die' about the coming flu pandemic

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