Wednesday, May 16, 2007


RUNTIME: 108 min.

There sure is something in those film noirs of the 40s and 50s, movies like THE MALTESE FALCON, THE THIRD MAN and entertainers like CASABLANCA and REBECCA. And it sure isn’t limited to the lightings and intense close ups or the melodramatic blend of performances of the actresses. Some of these classics have fantastic characterization and in masterpieces like THE MALTESE FALCON and CASBLANCA there’s huge dramatic appeal in the clash of the cynical hero and the romantic heroine. I especially love CASABLANCA and much of it owes to Ingrid Bergman with whom I absolutely fell in love with after watching the movie. It has been not too often that an actress has looked so divine on celluloid and the only other instance that comes to my mind is Nicole Kidman in MOULIN ROUGE.
THE GOOD GERMAN is based on Joseph Kanon’s novel of the same name and although I haven’t read the book, it is pretty apparent that considerable liberties have been taken with the book. Jacob Geismer (Clooney) is a war correspondent who has returned to Berlin after a long time to cover the Potsdam negotiations. He’s assigned a driver Patrick Tully (Tobey Maguire), an immoral man only on the side of making money out of all the politics in Berlin. He’s making arrangements to get himself and his girlfriend Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) out of Berlin, a lady who holds a deep secret and is central to the mystery behind a certain Nazi officer Emil Brandt who is being pursued by both the Soviet and Americans. Geismer gets involved in all of it when Tully’s dead body washes ashore one day on the Soviet side of Berlin.
So when Steven Soderbergh, a director who is one of the foremost blends of a mainstream director and a man who is constantly innovative decides to make the audiences of today experience what it is was like to watch a movie of the 40s on the big screen, it sure is something to look forward to. THE GOOD GERMAN in every visual way, a 40s black and white film noir. Soderbergh has used movie making techniques of those times to achieve the desired results. In fact, the makers sent copies of CASABLANCA and THE THIRD MAN to the critics to let them have an idea what the makers were striving for. The film poster too, is a straight nod to CASABLANCA. But to the utter disappointment that is where all the resemblance and good things end.
For one, none of the characters are appealing. George Clooney is just going through the motions and is woefully dull. If one is expecting something like Bogart’s Sam Spade, well you cannot be more disappointed. All Clooney does in the entire film does is walk from one place to another, pursuing something with a question mark for an expression on his face. There’s no style, no depth in his character nor in his performance and it as much his failure as is the script’s. There’s no conviction behind the character nor is there any inspiring effort on Soderbergh’s part. Ditto for Maguire who is given a couple of expletives to show his moral status. Well, neither he nor Clooney evoke any sort of interest and it is pretty much like watching them going through an exercise. Peter Lorre sure was melodramatic and a bit too hammy for my liking in THE MALTESE FALCON and CASABLANCA but he was at least a million times more effective then Maguire who was trying to emulate him. As for Cate Blanchett, she’s not as bad as the other two but isn’t good herself either. Doing a Marlene Dietrich than a Bergman, she’s hardly effective as the femme fatale, although it is the director’s fault rather than hers. But when she tries to look down like Ingrid Bergman, it seems more like a parody rather than an honest effort, only that the parody isn’t remotely funny. In fact, the same can be extended to the film as a whole where for most of the part, I wasn’t sure whether Soderbergh was making an honest tribute to those black and white films or was it a parody. The result is that everything feels forced, even the ending which is a tribute to the great sequence from CASABLANCA is a shame. Most of the sequences in fact feel oddly out of place.
This is a huge disappointment and I would rate it along with Michael Mann’s MIAMI VICE as one of the biggest disappointments of 2006. If not for anything, I honestly feel that Cate Blanchett is hugely miscast. She’s a great actress, one of my all-time favorites but she hardly is beautiful enough to light up a film as this, nor is she tempting enough to play a femme fatale. I would have gone for Naomi watts who could have at least given a good challenge to Ingrid Bergman for her radiance alone. I still cannot forget how beautiful she looks in MULLHOLAND DR. and she would have been the perfect choice here. On second thoughts, I believe the director would have been a lot more serious in studying the balk and white movies and understand why some of these classics have endured the test of time. Isn’t it the ultimate failure for Soderbergh who has paid a tribute to the movies that withstood 60 years with one that would be barely remembered a month from now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Aptly put… CATE is waste & so is the MR. Perfect Bachelor Clooney…. No comments for “spidey” Toby, its better to have his face masked so that expressions aren’t seen!!!
After long break, got time to see the movie & opted for this & was highly disappointed!!