dir: Steven Soderbergh
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Experiments are cool, aren’t they? I used to look forward to The Curiousity Show on the telly when I was a wee tacker, as the weird guy with the moustache and the other weird guy with the beard performed all those experiments you get to see as a kid: adding this to that to make it gush out all over the place, toothpicks in potatoes, constructing working nuclear devices out of papier mache, paper clips and mum’s pantyhose.
The interest lies, apart from the desire to watch shit blow up in beakers or on bunsen burners, and apart from the general intention to learn more about the physical world through observation, in the real sense what we want to accomplish is the viewed outcome of what happens in a controlled environment. In other words, if you put this and this in this kind of set-up, then this shit happens.
Well, if you put Steven Soderbergh, black & white cinematography, A-list actors and a script set just after World War II in Germany, it’s an experiment in film noir, and certainly a lot of shit happens.
Soderbergh has recently morphed his career into a schizophrenic one where he can hopefully balance his commercial and artistic objectives from film to film. The two rarely exist in the same film, hence the ‘one for them, one for me’ construct, which is how the same guy can make films as disparate as Bubble, Solaris and the trashy Ocean’s flicks. So for each Ocean’s Eleven sequel he makes, he gets to make much smaller, much more experimental flicks as well with vastly smaller budgets and audience appeal.
I’m not sure which category The Good German falls into, but what I can say is that I hated this flick’s guts with a passion akin to a thousand blazing suns.
It most likely falls into the experimental category, since it is a remarkable conceptual and technical achievement, but with stars like Cate Blanchett, George Clooney and Tobey Maguire in it, you’d think it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to expect at least some people to see it.
Would that they hadn’t. Would that I hadn’t.
I really hated this flick. I like the idea and the way it is put together, but I really hated how it turned out.
Shot entirely in black & white, the film seamlessly integrates filmed footage with newsreel and old movie shots from around the time the flick is set, making it look like a flick shot in the 1940s. The shot choices, the musical score and the aesthetics all pay homage and breath life into what is called the film noir era of filmmaking. Technically, it’s a marvel.
Storywise, it’s a fucking travesty. There’s only so many times I can be deliberately reminded of Casablanca before I bellow out at the screen, waking up my baby daughter, “I get it, now move the fuck on!” It does the flick no favours to remind me of Casablanca from beginning to the bitter end, for the very valid reason that it reminds me of how good Casablanca is, and how crappy The Good German is not only in comparison.
Captain Jake Geismer (Clooney) is sent to Berlin to write about the Potsdam Conference where the victorious Allied powers decide how to carve up Europe. Whilst there he is dragged into a struggle between the Russians and the Americans who are fighting over who gets to hold onto which Nazi scientists in order to further their nuclear ambitions.
Within that conflict is the more immediate conflict between Geismer, another army shmuck played by Maguire and Jake’s former German lover Lena (Blanchett). Lena is as Marlene Dietrich as Blanchett can make her, and plays an unrepentantly rapacious prostitute with a heart of pure black coal. Her portrayal is not so much femme fatale as it is fatally flat.
When Maguire’s irritating character is murdered, the story becomes a dual mystery in terms of who killed him and why, and where Lena’s husband is and why the Americans and the Russians want him so badly. Jake, being the main guy in a noir flick, pursues the mysteries despite being told repeatedly not to and despite regular beatings from anyone who has the spare time.
The plot did nothing for me, Clooney’s hangdog expression did nothing for me. Lena definitely did nothing for me as the most soulless character I’ve seen in a while, and the whole flick made me angrier the longer it went on. The sheer repetition of scenes where Clooney’s character would turn up and badger Lena with some other piece of information he came across during his adventures actively made me barrack for an alternate storyline where the Germans rise from the dead and reconquer their fallen homeland, killing Clooney and everyone that ever met him without hesitation.
Somewhat contaminating the experiment in noir filmmaking is the manner in which the script reflects elements more common in flicks originating way after the era depicted, rather than stuff you would expect in a noir flick. As such, for probably the first time in my life, a sex scene of Tobey drilling a lifeless Blanchett and regular swearing actively distracted me. They reminded me that I was watching a crappy flick that couldn’t even stick to what I thought was its reason for existing: being a faithful and painstaking experiment in genre filmmaking.
The film builds and builds to a revelation about a deep, dark secret of Lena’s, and when the big revelation occurs in a scene that so clearly parallels the ending of Casablanca that it’s almost a parody, all I could think was “who cares”, and “why did you bother?”
I bothered because I’m curious about flicks where someone tries something different for once, even if that experiment sometimes fails. The problem for me, apart from Blanchett’s corpse-like portrayal and the real mystery of what Australian actor Jack Thompson is doing in this flick, and why he’s ballooned to Jabba the Hutt proportions, is that it really fails on almost every level that makes a flick entertaining.
I’m sure my hatred is irrational in this situation, but I don’t care. I hated this flick and wish I’d never been born, because that way I’d never have seen it and darkened my soul just a little bit more by writing a review of this crappenfest. I hope it didn’t give me cancer.
1 time I will never speak or think of this flick ever again out of 10
“It's easy now to say Hitler was wrong about the Jews. Let me tell you something. Nobody said he was wrong at the time.” – The Good German.