Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: "The Good German" Recalls a Certain Kind of 1940s (Happy B'day, Steven Soderbergh)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 86 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Good German (2006) – B&W
Running time: 120 minutes (2 hours)
MPAA – R for language, violence, and some sexual content
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
WRITER: Paul Attanasio (based upon the novel by Joseph Kanon)
PRODUCERS: Ben Cosgrove, Gregory Jacobs, and Steven Soderbergh
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Andrews (Soderbergh)
EDITOR: Mary Ann Bernard (Soderbergh)
2007 Academy Awards nominee

DRAMA/MYSTERY with elements of a thriller

Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Beau Bridges, Leland Orser, Robin Weigert, Tony Curran, Ravil Isyanov, Dave Power, and Christian Oliver

For The Good German, Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh shot this film the old Hollywood way. For instance, he used the fixed-focal length lenses available to cinematographers in the 1940’s instead of the modern sophisticated zoom lenses. He also directed the actors to perform in the presentational, stage style (which was the acting style used in most Hollywood films before method acting). And it’s in black and white.

In The Good German, U.S. war correspondent Capt. Jacob “Jake” Geismar (George Clooney) gets caught in a web of intrigue involving his former girlfriend, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) in post-World War II Berlin. Before the war, Jake managed a news bureau in Berlin, and Lena worked for him. Jake is in the city to cover the upcoming Potsdam Peace Conference where the Allied leaders will determine the fate of the defeated Germans and the newly liberated Europe and split whatever is of any value between the U.S. Russia, and Great Britain. That means people as well as nations.

After Lena’s boyfriend, Patrick Tully (Tobey Maguire), is found dead, Jake learns that Tully, a motor pool driver, was planning on selling information on the whereabouts of Lena’s supposedly deceased husband, Emil Brandt (Christian Oliver), an SS officer who worked in the Nazi’s V2 rocket program. As both the U.S. and Russian militaries hunt for Emil, Jake, still in love with Lena, tries to help her get the papers necessary to get both her and Emil out of Berlin. Tensions arise between Jake and Lena when he learns that she’s been keeping lots of dark secrets of her own.

The acting is pitch perfect for this film. Cate Blanchett, who made 2006 a career year with this film, as well as Babel and Notes on a Scandal, does period pieces so well. She can make a character seem as if she certainly fits in that time period. Clooney keeps his charm and usual film persona intact, but gives a nice turn that has the flavor of a Humphrey Bogart character.

Paul Attanasio’s screenplay (based upon Joseph Kanon’s novel) has the specter of the Holocaust hanging over the story, but Attanasio acknowledges the Cold War looming over the horizon. While Soderbergh visually references Casablanca (1942) for this movie, Attanasio’s script both in mood and plot are similar to Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown, which was screenwriter Robert Towne’s recreation of 1930’s detective films.

Soderbergh successfully reproduces the kind of story Hollywood told in the 1940’s, and he does it using the technical production methods of that time. The Good German, however, is more than just a smooth slab of meta fiction. It’s a period romance and political thriller like Casablanca. It reminds movie viewers that fine cinema comes first from a great storyteller who makes great storytelling. Sometimes, a director has to make do with what he has – even if it’s not the cutting edge of movie science and technology.

8 of 10

2007 Academy Awards: 1 nomination for “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score” (Thomas Newman)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

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