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:: The Good German

Based on the novel by Joseph Kanon and directed by Steven Soderbergh, ‘”The Good German” is a mystery, a romance and a thriller in the classic film noir tradition. Set in 1945 and made using the filmmaking techniques of that time, “The Good German” blends a contemporary cast with the distinctive mood and style of a 1940s war film. It's another product of the Clooney/Soderbergh collaboration which has yielded such films as “Ocean's Eleven” and “Ocean's Twelve”, "Solaris,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Syriana.”

In the film, U.S War correspondent Jake Geismer (Clooney) returns to Berlin (where he worked before the war) to cover the Potsdam Peace Conference at the end of World War II. Jake’s driver, Corporal Tully (Tobey Maguire) is, on the surface, the quintessential all-American boy. In reality, he indulges in corrupt dealings with the Russians and Germans, black market trade, prostitutes and alcohol in abundance. Not only is Tully Jake’s driver, but the woman he has been keeping company with, the mysterious Lena (Cate Blanchett), is Jake’s former lover from the days of his pre-war employment in Berlin. Not long after Jake and Lena’s awkward reunion, Tully is found dead in the Russian zone of Berlin with 100,000 marks in his pocket. Jake becomes drawn into the mystery surrounding Tully’s murder and is frustrated as to why both American and Russian authorities don’t wish to pursue investigations.

Eventually, each line of enquiry initiated by Jake leads to Lena, and the fact that her husband, (who is in hiding) is an eminent German scientist (a “Good German” according to Lena) and is sought after by both the Americans and the Russians who after the war discovered just how advanced the German physicists, chemists and engineers were in the fields of rocket science and biological warfare.

In a film that looks and sounds like a 1940s mystery/thriller with its use of vintage camera lenses, an old-style score, simulated rear projections for background shots and the traditional swipe cut to shift scenes, The Good German fails to totally engage. Clooney’s Jake looks great but lacks narrative purpose. He seems to have all the time in the world to chase endlessly after Lena and always manages to be waiting nonchalantly in the doorway of her new secret ‘safehouse’. All things Nazi and Jewish (which are relevant to the plot) are not revealed early enough in the film, reducing the story to Jake’s romantically inspired promise to help Lena escape from Berlin. The character of Tully is generally unlikeable and his role is slightly superfluous.

As far as the story is concerned, Lena’s husband is of more narrative interest and more script and screen time for this particular character may have suited the film’s Casablanca-esque aspirations. Blanchett has more than her fair share of moody, fatalistic dialogue, delivered in sullen, measured tones reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo (who she allegedly studied in preparation for this role). However, Soderburgh’s shots and close-ups of her are over-stylised and threaten to “out-noir” and overdo the film’s nod to past filmmaking practices.

That said, the fact that Blanchett is almost unrecognisable (with dark hair and dark brown-coloured contact lenses), her presence on screen is less of a visual anomaly than the contemporary well known faces of Clooney or Maguire who despite having their scenes interspersed with images of bombed buildings, (some of the footage shown in the film was shot in Berlin just after the war by legendary directors Billy Wilder and William Wyler), are a constant reminder of the film’s recent production which slightly undermines what Soderbergh sets out to achieve.