The combination of George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire and director Steven Soderbergh should have been enough to make The Good German both a box office and critical smash, but this World War II era throw back gets so indulged with making itself look old that it begins to feel old, too.
Clooney plays military journalist Jake Geismer, who has been assigned to Berlin to cover the Postdam Conference following the surrender of Nazi Germany. As tensions rise between the Russians and Americans, and Berlin attempts to piece itself back together, Jake finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue as he discovers that his old flame, Lena (Blanchett), has become a prostitute for his own driver, the oddly cheerful but manipulative Tully (Maguire). Furthermore, a body has washed ashore, but with everyone attempting to hunting down Nazis, only Jake seems interested in solving the case.
The Good German is shot in black and white, and Soderbergh has gone out to make the movie look and feel like a 50-year old film. The dialogue, sets, lighting and plot all ring of old-school noir, but that's just it - Soderbergh spent so much time getting the mood and lighting right that he forgot to make a tense and interesting thriller. The film moves along at a steady pace, following Clooney as he goes from one bland encounter to the next, but the pace just isn't fast enough. I don't even remember how the movie ends, as I had lost interest by that point.
All the actors involve do well, though I wasn't overly impressed with Maguire's goofy yet sadistic performance. His character never really made sense to me. Blanchett is good, as usual, though her character was a bit underdeveloped considering she was central to the story. Clooney is the best of the bunch, and is merely a victim of a movie that just isn't as good as it probably looked on paper.
For those who like WWII-era movies or want to relive stories they saw in their childhood, The Good German may have its appeal. In reality, it is not a poorly done film and has some stuff to offer. Unfortunately, it just isn't good enough. Had Soderbergh taken a little more care to make a tense, interesting story, all of the technical effort he put into place would have really paid off. As is, The Good German is a lackluster mystery-thriller.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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