I fully support all of Steven Soderbergh’s cinematic experiments, whether it’s highly personal weirdness (Schizopolis), big-budget romps (Ocean’s 11), remakes of Russian scifi classics (Solaris), or minimalist melodrama (Bubble). So when he makes a 1940s noir with period technology, I’m very much there. The Good German is set in the heart of what’s called “the Zone” in Gravity’s Rainbow: bombed-to-rubble Berlin in 1945, which is a place very much like Casablanca a few years earlier. Nobody can be trusted, everybody’s for sale, and everybody wants to get the hell out. Clooney comes in as war correspondent, Tobey Maguire plays a hometown boy who might not be as apple-pie as he seems, and Cate Blanchett is the German dame with a mysterious history. It all looks fantastic, and what Pynchonite wouldn’t be a sucker for a plot that involves rocket scientists, the Potsdam conference, and the Mittelbauwerke?

But The Good German has a deadly weakness, and it’s the script. We don’t feel for Clooney, we don’t understand Blanchett, there is little chemistry between them, the tangled plot is so confusing you have to figure it out over dinner afterwards, and Maguire (the best thing about the movie) leaves the story much too early. It’s ok if noir doesn’t make sense right away (Raymond Chandler famously had no idea who killed one of the characters in The Maltese Falcon), but at least the emotions have to be readable. In The Good German, it’s all a blur.

Finally, there are the Casablanca references, which overwhelm the movie. Sure, other films are also alluded to (The Third Man, Psycho), but The Good German starts as faithful recreation of a period movie with contemporary attitudes (more sex than they showed in ’45 etc), but by the end you feel like you’re watching just another post-modern pastiche–and by god, as much as I love Casablanca, it’s been copied, ripped off, and parodied enough. 

The Good German. Steven Soderbergh, 2006. **

[tags]steven soderbergh, film, 2 stars, noir, crime, berlin, germany world war ii, george clooney, cate blanchett, tobey maguire, the maltese falcon, thomas pynchon, rocket science, casablanca, psycho, the third man, raymond chandler, postmodernism, pastiche[/tags]