Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Good German

Last night I watched Steven Soderbergh's The Good German on television. This is a remarkable film for several reasons. It is the only film that Tobey Maguire made during his manifestation as Spiderman. It is one of those serious collaborations between Soderbergh and George Clooney that they fund by making the silly Ocean's 37 series. It features a fantastic performance by Cate Blanchett and was nominated for an Oscar for its musical score. Mostly though, it is remarkable for Soderbergh's attempt to make a 1940's film noir using 1940's techniques: black and white film stock, boom microphones, studio and Hollywood backlots with projected backdrops, incandescent lighting and period lenses on the cameras.

The film is set in 1945 at the time of the Potsdam conference where Stalin, Truman and Churchill carved up Europe between them. The deal seemed to be you get Poland and we get Von Braun. The character of Bettmann is based on Arthur Rudolf who really was the major engineer of the V2 program and became a major production engineer at NASA, but lost his US citizenship because of suspicion that he was involved in the use of slave labor to manufacture the V2. The title character was Emil Brandt, secretary to Bettmann who wanted to spill the beans on Bettmann as a war criminal. Cate Blanchett plays his wife who is willing to do anything to get out of Berlin and Clooney plays her ex-boss and lover, a newspaperman/war correspondent who is posted back to Berlin to cover Potsdam. Unknown to him the OSS (CIA) is using him to get to Mrs Brandt to get to Emil. Tobey Maguire plays a nasty little pimp and black marketeer whose front is to be Clooney's driver.

Given the mix, the plot is quite predictable (after all we know up-front that America got a rocket to the moon). Clooney is very laid back, efficient and solid, but would he be a star if he wasn't so handsome? Maguire has a lot to learn and could do so by watching Banchett who must be one of the best screen actors on the planet. Soderbergh handicaps himself with all these gimmicks, but doesn't achieve another Casablanca, despite the imitative poster and the Dakota in the last scene.

I suppose it is worth a 6/10, perhaps 6.5. Worth seeing if you don't have to pay.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. I didn't think Oceans 11 was a bad movie. I did see it on free TV (supported by ad revenue not the government, so it's different than 'free' socialized medicine).

Anyway, I thought the film was pretty good for what it was, a glitzy caper flick. I must admit that in my memory, the original was better, but nevertheless O-11 was not a bad film.

I didn't see any of the other Ocean's movies.

I'm a bit confused, though. You say early in your post 'The Good German' was a 'remarkable' film, yet you say later that it's only a 6.5, worth seeing if you don't have to pay.

Perhaps you are saying that Maguire and Clooney are capable of making non-silly films. (I've not seen the Spiderman series as I think Maguire is not a good fit for the role (see Reeves in Superman for an unknown who was very good in his role), and Clooney has a very left-wing attitude which means that many of his films are of no interest to me.