326 – The Good German

This slop, about the adventures of an American journalist, and the woman he once loved, in almost-postwar Germany, isn’t terribly enjoyable – unless one looks at it in a wholly ironic life. If you think of The Good German as one of those cheesy propaganda cheapies made in the forties and fifties, the stench of overwrought schlock might be a bit more palatable. Well, maybe – if you also downed some cheap scotch in the process.

Jacob (George Clooney) is a writer for the fledgling New Republic who zips over to Berlin to cover the close of The Big One. Tully (Tobey Maguire) is Jacob’s driver, an opportunistic ne’er-do-well who’s deeply involved in the black market, the little scamp. Tully’s girlfriend is Lena (Cate Blanchett), a prostitute who sees Tully as a way out of Germany forever. Might a romantic triangle, full of lust and intrigue, develop? Maybe not. Soon, Tully’s face down in the river, and everyone’s trying to find Lena’s presumed-dead husband, including the Russian and American military.

I can appreciate what Steven Soderbergh was trying to do here – he wanted to recreate that ultracool 1940s cinema atmosphere, one in which everyone’s attitude and demeanor are as black and white as the cinematography itself, and everyone chainsmokes. But in a weird concession to the present day, there’s a ton of profanity. Why would you go to all of the trouble of creating this throwback atmosphere and then screw it up by tossing in anachronistic cursing? Did Soderbergh feel he needed to sex up the movie a little? What, German prostitutes aren’t enough?

And I can also appreciate casting decisions as much as the next guy – Clooney as Hero isn’t really a stretch for him, though – but who the heck thought Tobey Maguire belonged in this movie? Put it this way – when the woman has a deeper, more masculine voice than the man, Something Is Wrong. Maguire’s voice sounds like it’s going to crack at any moment. He’s in way over his head, since this is a movie that requires some range. See how good you are without a mask on, Mr. Spider-Man!

Much of the movie involves Jacob running around Berlin, trying to piece together everything, while being thwarted by, well, everyone, including Lena, who lies constantly. It got to the point where I half-expected her to say she wasn’t much of a smoker. But regardless of the endless lies, Jake fervently believes Lena’s pure and innocent and just a goshdarn victim of circumstances. Which means, of course, that she’s not.

The movie tries shamelessly to ape Casablanca, but Clooney is no Bogie. He’s always been compared to Cary Grant, a suave good guy who’s in a little over his head, but that’s not what this movie needed; it needed an oily, morally ambiguous bastard. Someone who might indeed screw over other people to further his own gains, or not. For some reason Steve Buscemi’s name kept popping into my head. At any rate, Clooney’s just not the man for the job here – he looks too pretty.

On the other hand, Blanchett is about as perfect as you can get. Not hammy, not too understated, just fantastic. I liked her – mysterious, callous, believable. She reminds one of Ingrid Bergman, and it’s quite a favorable comparison.

Perhaps if Soderbergh had not decided to rip off (er, I mean, pay homage to) the cloak-and-dagger postwar films of the olden days, concentrating on filming a believable, cohesive plot; or maybe going all the way with his homage and not having profanity laced throughout, this might have made more sense. It does pick up a bit about halfway through, but everyone seems so intent on being Grand Actors that the result isn’t very entertaining. I mean, heck, when Tobey Maguire kicks George Clooney not once, your movie has some serious credibility problems.

**

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2 Responses to “326 – The Good German”

  1. joliko Says:

    watch “notorious” and you will see that cary grant in this movie is “an oily, morally ambiguous bastard ” as you say .

  2. frothy Says:

    I’ve seen it. Roger Thornhill isn’t morally ambiguous – he’s a good guy who’s been mistaken for a bad guy. Well, for a morally ambiguous guy, anyway.

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