Germany, 1945. As the world powers gather in Berlin to draw a new map of Europe, military journalist Captain Jake Geismer (George Clooney) finds himself embroiled in a complicated murder investigation involving an old flame, the mysterious Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett). His driver (Tobey Maguire) seems to be implicated too. But don't fret: The Good German's plot may be complex, but it takes a back seat to director Steven Soderbergh's relentless grandstanding. This movie is all about the movies.
Working from Joseph Kanon's source novel, Soderbergh has fashioned a painfully accurate pastiche of 1940s cinema. From the noirish lighting and high contrast compositions of The Third Man, to a final scene that borrows liberally from Casablanca, The Good German is a luminous love letter to the glory days of the picture house. It's not just the visuals, either: Blanchett does a pretty good impression of Marlene Dietrich, while Maguire's shrimpy black marketeer is the sort of role Peter Lorre would have eaten for breakfast. In a neat bit of subversion, the 1940s trappings clash with the language, which is as salty and violent as a modern day Mamet or Tarantino.
"CONVOLUTED MYSTERY ROMANCE"
In short, you can't fault The Good German for style, but there's little substance to balance Soderbergh's self conscious trickery. Clooney, playing against type as a lovelorn putz, stumbles through a convuluted mystery romance that takes an age to unravel and, once revealed, doesn't seem worth the trouble. Soderbergh refuses to spell things out for the audience, which is great, but he's reluctant to delve into the emotional reality behind his frayed footage either. The result is a film that feels more like a cinematographer's showreel than an involving drama: flashy, but heartless.
The Good German is released in UK cinemas on Friday 9th March 2007.