The Good German
Based on the novel by Joseph Kanon, The Good German takes place in the ruins of post-WWII Berlin, where U.S. Army war correspondent Jake Geismar (George Clooney) becomes embroiled with Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), a former lover whose missing husband is the object of a manhunt by both the American and Russian armies. Intrigue mounts as Jake tries to uncover the secrets Lena may be hiding in her desperation to get herself and her husband out of Berlin. Tully (Tobey Maguire), a soldier in the American army motor pool assigned to drive Jake around Berlin, has black market connections that may be Lena's way out—or lead them all into even darker territory.
Despite its flaws, The Good German is a welcome gift for every film lover who laments that “they don’t make 'em like they used to.” Steven Soderbergh’s affectionate, knowing tribute to the black-and-white melodramas of Hollywood’s golden age may lack the emotional depth and romantic passion of Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca—the 1946 classic it intentionally emulates—but as Soderbergh approximates Curtiz’s studio style, he delivers a shimmering, shadowy reminder that movies can be enjoyed for the sheer pleasure of their craftsmanship. Once again serving as his own cinematographer (credited as “Peter Andrews”), Soderbergh went to great lengths to technically and aesthetically re-create the look and feel of a Curtiz production, and Joseph Kanon’s source novel (adapted by Quiz Show screenwriter Paul Attanasio) provides a twisting plot set around the historical Potsdam conference in post-World War II Germany. An American military journalist, Capt. Jake Geismer (George Clooney) is in rubble-strewn Berlin to cover the event, and is quickly drawn into a murder plot involving his appointed driver (Tobey Maguire), an old flame-turned-wartime prostitute (Cate Blanchett) and her missing husband, a scientist who possesses pivotal secrets coveted by Americans and Russians in a pre-Cold War bid for power.
Violence, sexual content, and salty dialogue make it clear that this R-rated drama is a brashly contemporary homage to films of a bygone era, and not a slavish attempt to copy the past. This yields mixed results in terms of the film’s overall appeal; it’s gorgeous to look at, but the plot and performances exist in a vacuum, and the entire film feels oddly disengaged from any sense of genuine human emotion. It’s probably fair to say that Soderbergh had more fun making the film than most people will have watching it. And yet, as Clooney’s character is repeatedly beaten and deceived on his path to cynical enlightenment, The Good German has many qualities that make it recommendable, not the least being the pleasure of following a talented director as he indulges his penchant for bold experimentation. —Jeff Shannon
An homage to the Golden Age of film noir thrillers, The Good German is a glistening reflection on a bygone era of film. The absolutely brilliant score by Thomas Newman is likewise cut from the cloth of such Golden Age masters as Max Steiner, Miklós Rózsa and his own father, the legendary Alfred Newman. The Good German is one of the best scores of the year and a strong Oscar contender.
The bestselling author of Los Alamos and Alibi returns to 1945. Hitler has been defeated, and Berlin is divided into zones of occupation. Jake Geismar, an American correspondent who spent time in the city before the war, has returned to write about the Allied triumph while pursuing a more personal quest: his search for Lena, the married woman he left behind. When an American soldier’s body is found in the Russian zone during the Potsdam Conference, Jake stumbles on the lead to a murder mystery. The Good German is a story of espionage and love, an extraordinary re-creation of a city devastated by war, and a thriller that asks the most profound ethical questions in its exploration of the nature of justice, and what we mean by good and evil in times of peace and of war.