With three of Hollywood's hottest acting properties, a reputable 'name' director in the form of Steven Soderbergh, and an affectionate parodying of the 'Golden age of movies' you're probably wondering, as I was, why The Good German has received such a bashing from the critics. You won't be wondering any more after you've seen the film.
Technically proficient it may be, but with an almost incomprehensible, and ridiculously complex plot, serious miscasting and weak performances from its main leads, together with a totally confusing directorial style, it's hard to come away thinking of the film as anything other than the worst kind of vanity project for those who decided to make it.
Presented in 4:3 format black and white, complete with sliding dissolves, obvious back projection work and a somewhat stilted style, you might think that Soderbergh was seriously attempting to recreate the techniques of the 1940's. While the approach has a certain charm, the gimmick soon palls, not least because the attention to 1940's detail hasn't extended to the dialogue which is full of four letter words. Not big. Not clever. And not at all necessary - so why was it done?
But the artificially styled homage is just the start of the problems. As a fan of 1940's film noir myself I'd argue that the scripts of the day were more sophisticated and well written than the average 'hand your brain in at the door' movie we get from Hollywood these days. Unfortunately Soderbergh seems to have interpreted this sophistication as an excuse to put everything except the kitchen sink into a plot that is all-but-impossible to follow, it takes so many twists and turns.
George Clooney plays 'good guy' Captain Jacob 'Jake' Geismer, an American military journalist sent to post-War Berlin to cover a conference, only to find himself drawn into a murder investigation involving his driver Patrick Tully and his former mistress Lena Brandt, who is now his driver's girlfriend.
As a plot involving good American soldiers gone bad, Russian contraband, and evil German nuclear scientists expands, the usual clichés of the genre play out, with Clooney's character seemingly caught in the middle of a series of murders nobody else seems much interested in.
Arguably the biggest problem with the film is the casting. Toby Maguire is horribly miscast as the cripple-kicking, spiv boyfriend of Blanchett's character. He's far too young and far too likeable and recognisable from his previous work to be taken seriously in the role. George Clooney has shown he's capable of turning in an excellent performance when required, witness Syria and Good Night, and Good Luck for recent examples, but here he coasts along playing himself as if on auto-pilot. And even the seriously impressive Cate Blanchett can't rescue the whole mess with what little she's given to work with here. 'Enigmatic' may sound great on paper, but on film it plays out as just plain dull.
Direction is adequate, and there's a certain amount of fun to be had in comparing the shooting style used throughout with that which was prevalent in the 40's. But it soon grows tired, and while one can admire scenes such as the last one, closely mirroring the airport scene from Casablanca, for their technique, after 90 minutes one finds oneself wondering just what was the point?!
The DVD is a perfect transfer of material deliberately designed to look like it was shot over 40 years ago. There's little to complain about but, being black and white and of 4:3 ratio, little to get excited about either. Sound is similarly 'of the era' which means this is not a disc which is going to set your home cinema system alight, as presumably recognised by its asking price, which is low for a film that only received its first theatrical outing earlier this year.
Given the 'passion' of those involved in this flawed project, it is inexcusable that the disc is bereft of any extra's at all. There's not so much as a trailer, let alone the usual 'Making of' featurette or director's commentary. Maybe all those involved were just too embarrassed to talk about the project? Whatever the reason, it means there's absolutely no good reason to buy the disc, and only those who are fans of one of the main leads should consider this even as a rental.
We're getting to that time of year where it's usual to draw up lists of awards for the year. If there were an award for 'Most disappointing film of the year' this one would surely win it. Avoid!