Good German

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Movie Review by Neil Sadler

Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey McGuire, Beau Bridges
Director: Steven Soderbergh

Maybe George Clooney thinks he looks better in shades of grey because this is the second recent release in which he has had his celluloid colour removed. Some things do look better in shades of grey but when a director chooses to shoot in black and white, especially a director as well-known as Steven Soderbergh (OCEANS ELEVEN, OUT OF SIGHT, TRAFFIC) then you know there is a reason.

The plot of THE GOOD GERMAN is as old as the style of the film suggests. An upstanding guy falls for a “dame.” The “dame” has a dark secret of her own and everything is pitched against them. She leads him astray as he falls from the path of good. This is classic film noir from the characterisation to the look – but unfortunately it is isn’t a great example of the genre.

There is certainly a lot of style here. The film has gone to great length not just to wash out the colour but to light and dress the film like it is pure noir. When characters drive, it is obvious they are in fixed cars with moving projected backgrounds. All the scenery and settings are dark, bleak and bare. The lighting is particularly stark and powerful. It lends the film a class that is sadly lacking in the content.

The film’s fault doesn’t lie with the cast. These are characters that suit them well. Clooney is a steadfast lead and Blanchett manages to channel Marlene Dietrich in the same effortless way she channelled Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.

But there are elements of the Good German that jar. By following the film-noir template so rigidly in some ways and loosely in others, the films meanders too much around its plot. Tobey Maguire and other minor characters come and go but they never seem to leave a mark.

The film also jars whenever it veers from pastiche either through language – the dreaded c word seems particularly out of place – or with its extreme sex or violence. It seems to go against the quaint and rather old-fashioned feel of the rest of the film.

But ultimately a film-noir lives or dies in its denouements, its reveals. There are twists here certainly. Characters flit between light and dark but it all begins to seem a bit contrived and when the big reveal comes near the end of the film, it lacks the power and the shock that it needs.

It is an enjoyable and often beautiful film but sadly not as good as it could be. More an ‘ok’ German than a Good one.

3 out of 6 stars