Steven Soderbergh is an inconsistent filmmaker, but also an admirable one who switches genres and production sizes on a dime. There is his mainstream A-list fare, like 2001's "Ocean's Eleven
" and 2004's "Ocean's Twelve
;" his serious grand-scale dramatic works, like 2000's "Traffic
" and 2002's "Solaris
;" and his experimental, guerilla-style projects, like 2002's "Full Frontal
" and 2006's "Bubble." Finally, there's "The Good German," an oddball amalgamation of all three and also quite possibly the most calamitous miscalculation of his career. To say that the film is soulless is too give it too much credit; these characters on display don't even do a good job of pretending to be human. To say the movie is merely "boring" doesn't seem fitting or epic enough of a word to describe what an excruciating endurance test its 108-minute running time is. And, to say that the picture is too convoluted and muddily scripted to follow properly is to assume the viewer cares enough to want to understand the plot. In this reviewer's case, he couldn't have cared less until the final reveal during the rainswept, "Casablanca"-inspired airport climax, which isn't interesting, either, but notable for being so laughably anticlimactic that only a natural fool or a genius on meds could believe this to be a fulfilling moment for audiences.
Set in a newly post-WWII, rubble-filled German landscape, American war correspondent Jack Geismer (George Clooney) returns to Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference but is sidetracked when he is reunited with Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), the brooding dame he left behind years ago. When Jack's hired driver, a young man named Patrick Tully (Tobey Maguire), is pulled ashore dead, Jack sets forth to investigate his murder. In doing so, he edges closer to discovering the dark reason behind why Lenawho coincidentally was Patrick's flamedesperately wants to escape the crumbling city around them.
Based on the 2001 novel by Joseph Kanon, "The Good German" has been rendered lifeless by an ill-conceived script by Paul Attanasio (2002's "The Sum of All Fears
") bereft of intrigue and emotion. The style that director Steven Soderbergh brings to the film is a look reminiscent of 1940s film noir
, complete with rich black-&-white cinematography, stock footage posing as establishing shots, and rear screen projection during the driving scenes. What he has forgotten to inject into this visual approach is the mood, classiness and romance of a 1940s film noir
. The film looks as if it was made by an aspiring filmmaker of middle school age who has snuck his camera onto the Warner Bros. backlot, all the while lurching through its needlessly complicated (read: disastrously told) storytelling at a snail's pace.
George Clooney (2005's "Syriana
"), Cate Blanchett (2006's "Babel
") and Tobey Maguire (2004's "Spider-Man 2
") have the look of vintage movie stars, but not the rhythm of their performances. There isn't a speck or a spark of chemistry between any of them, and despite the evidence onscreen, the love story between Clooney and Blanchett is so ineffectual and bristly as to not even seem to exist. When these two glamorous actors kiss, they look like two porcupines smashed up against each other. Clooney passes by with his matinee idol swagger and Blanchett throws in a German accent, and that is all that can be said about them. As Patrick Tully, Maguire elicits a little more potential and interest with his short-tempered role, but he is as dead as a doornail by the half-hour mark.
"The Good German" has one great line of dialogue. "You can never really get out of Berlin," Lena forebodingly tells Jack, the implications of such bringing a chill to the viewer just as what surrounds it is as forgettable as any other film this year. Only two hours after having watched it, the details of what went on and why were already foggy for myself and my screening partnernot because we weren't paying attention, mind you, but because the experience was so hopelessly empty. Frankly, there isn't anything left to discuss about "The Good German" because Soderbergh doesn't offer anything else worth discussing. If his goal was to paint a motion picture resembling a blank canvas, he has succeeded brilliantly.