For those who make the claim that "they don't make movies like
they used to," director Steven Soderbergh, screenwriter Paul Attanasio
and stars George Clooney and Cate Blanchett have made an attempt
to rectify that situation. Unfortunately, the end result is a terrible
movie, all ambition and no heart. I could not understand why the
director and the screenwriter would take such pains to recreate the
look and feel of a 1940s film (down to the very nice black and white
cinematography by Peter Andrews -- oops, I mean by Soderbergh)
and then destroy the mood and feel by injecting four-letter words and
crude sex scenes. As soon as Tobey Maguire's character, a
mealy-mouthed, untrustworthy little schemer started spouting the
F-bomb, I was immediately taken out of the film and I never found my
way back in. Indeed, I grew restless and bored watching the film
unspool. Although it has been designed to be an homage to such
classics as
and, most particularly, CASABLANCA (which Soderbergh quotes from
in the final scenes), therein lies the rub: these are seminal movies from
different decades. Mixing and matching results in a patchwork quilt
that may look nice but doesn't have a consistent theme.

THE GOOD GERMAN is adapted from a well-reviewed novel by
Joseph Kanon but the liberties taken by Attanasio and Soderbergh
nearly derail the film by concentrating on style over substance. This
leaves the main actors flailing (and in Maguire's case embarrassing

  George Clooney is cast as reporter Jake Geismar returning to
Germany for the first time since the war years when he operated the
Associated Press office in Berlin and was having a fling with a married
woman named Lena (Cate Blanchett). It turns out that Lena is now a
prostitute and one of her clients is Tully (Maguire), who has been
assigned to drive Geismar around while the reporter is there to cover
the Pottsdam Conference.

  The plot involves a murder that may or may not have something
to do with the black market, the Russians, fugitive Nazis, and/or the
Americans. It's a complicated thing and since the character killed is not
someone the audience cares about, the desire to uncover his murderer
is not particularly pressing.

  Clooney looks great in the period uniform and valiantly tries
to inject some humanity into the character, but the script and direction
undercut his work. Blanchett also has the appropriate "look" but her
German accent fluctuated almost as much as her character's stories.
In both cases, the performances feel like stunts.

  The supporting cast fares a bit better with Beau Bridges as the
American general in charge of the US sector of Berlin, Leland Orser as
an American on the trail of Nazis, Robin Weigert as Lena's roommate
and fellow lady of the evening, and Ravil Isyanov as the head of the
Soviet sector.

  Still, the final verdict on this movie is that for all its attempts
to replicate the great movies of the 1940s, it fails miserably. One
needs more than smoke and mirrors.

          Rating:                D-
          MPAA Rating:        R for language, violence and some sexual
          Running time:       105 mins.
The Good German
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.