Who needs Nazis when we can just face ourselves?
Jake Geismar (George Clooney), an Army correspondent, helps his former lover, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), comb post-World War II Berlin for her missing husband, who is wanted by not just the American forces, but the Russian ones as well. However, the plan to find him gets a bit out-of-whack when Jake’s driver, Tully (Tobey Maguire), a soldier with all sorts of connections to the black market decides that he wants to get involved with finding this guy, while also getting some of his own issues solved in the meantime. Still, Jake and Lena want to find their man, so they trust Tully as much as they can, until it becomes an all-out, drag-out battle between good, evil, Nazis, Americans, and Russians. Basically, it’s a good old-fashioned war and it’s up to all the players involved to get out of it, alive and well.
There is no denying that with the Good German, Steven Soderbergh is paying an homage to the noirs of yesteryear. The look, the feel, the sound, hell, even aspect-ratio, feels as if it was transported from the 40’s and brought right to our screens again. It’s a seamless production that obviously cost a lot and it shows – there’s not a single flaw to be found in the way everything looks and just goes to show that Soderbergh, despite how much flack he may receive for it, truly is a neat-freak. He knows what he wants and he gets it.
Shame he just didn’t get his way in the story.
Cause once you get past the glossiness of the production, the Good German just doesn’t work. It’s style works and is neat, but the story, the characters, the conflicts, the twists, the turns, the revelations, the possibility of anything ever making sense, just never fully come together. It feels as if the production itself was rushed, either to get the movie done in time for awards season, or that the production was so dedicated to making the flick looking great, that they forgot to really focus on the sort of stuff that matters.
And with a lot of Soderbergh bombs (which there aren’t many), that seems to be the one issue: The script just isn’t there. A good portion of this has to do with him not always writing his scripts and in the case of the Good German, which was written by Paul Attanasio, this is especially the case. It tries to take on so much, with so very little context, and in a run-time that should feel light and almost breezy (105 minutes, mind you), for some reason, it feels longer. Most of this is due to us not really knowing what’s going on with these characters, this mystery, or even what’s at-stake; the fact that the whole movie begins with us looking for some character’s husband, already shows you that there’s a problem.
Then Tobey Maguire shows up and yeah, it’s hard to really figure everything out.
Which isn’t to say that Maguire is a problem for the movie, because in hindsight, he’s probably the best thing for it. His character is so goofy, wild, and unpredictable, that he feels like he deserves his own movie, where the focus is primarily on him, trying his best to navigate throughout this world that just doesn’t know what to do with him. Maguire’s best in these sort of unhinged performances and his performance as Tully, is up there with one of his best.
But once again, he just doesn’t have a movie to fully service him like he deserves. And because he’s so off-the-wall, it’s easy to see that he doesn’t fully fit in with everything else going on around him. For instance, in the context of what the movie’s trying to do, his out-of-control performance doesn’t really connect and feels like something of its own different creation, one that’s obviously more interesting and fun to watch, than whatever the hell the Good German turns into, with Clooney and Blanchett giving, unfortunately, boring performances. They, like everyone else here, try, but the script’s just not there and when that happens, what’s the point?
Oh wait. That’s right. A paycheck. Never mind.
Consensus: Even with the style down perfectly, the Good German can’t quite get past the “homage” phase, and into becoming something of its own that’s compelling, interesting, and worth watching.
3 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures