The International Writers
Directed by Steven Soderberg
Screenplay by Paul Attanasio
Based on the novel by Joseph Kanon
Cast: George Clooney,Tobey Maguire,Cate Blanchett, Ravil Isaynov,
you say to yourself, "That's the worst thing I've ever heard
..." stick around. That's Berlin."
Its 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 its
victory for the allies in a devastated Germany where no one is innocent.
The victors quaff champagne, the Germans 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 doesnt
want Clooneys 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 Lenas husband
to the Russians, even though he has no idea where he might be. Its
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.
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.
double dealing, double crosses and Lena herself feels guilty for
surviving. Certainly she doesnt 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 doesnt
seem comfortable there at all and never quite gets into it. There
just isnt enough for him to do in this film and he never gets
angry or mad and just stumbles from one scene to the next.
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, its
no Humphrey Bogart movie.
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, Clooneys 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 Blanchettes 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
Sam North is the author of 'Another
Place to Die' about the coming flu pandemic
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