Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Good German

"The Good German" (Steve Soderbergh, 2006) This was the second of Blanchett's (erk!) "Christmas" movies. And it's a fascinating little experiment, but not a satisfying movie. In it, Steve Soderbergh attempted to do a film in the old "Warner Brothers" style. It's in black and white, done on back-lots with incandescent lights, and tube microphones and back-projection. Stylistcally, it looks a lot like Michael Curtiz's staging of "Casablanca," while in the many instances of conflict it resembles Orson Welles' in-your-face direction. The story, which takes place in a divided post-war Berlin is a bit like the cynical "Third Man" crossed with the more romantic "Casablanca." But it has the modern sensibility of more natural acting, language, nudity and hyper-cynicism. And it's like the two don't go together, there's such a cultural disconnect between the "silver-screen presentation" and the story that ultimately they're working at cross-purposes. It's tough to care about the machinations of the script when you're admiring the technique, and playing "identify that shot." Plus, the stars are ill-served by the conceits. Clooney is forced to be a bit more broad, which has never been his strength, and poor Tobey McGuire just can't cope--it doesn't help that he's playing drastically against type. The character actors fare better with more theatrical performances, and Cate Blanchett channels the languid sensibilities of Dietrich and Bergman to get by. Still, it's not an incompetent film--it's very accomplished. But the directorial decisions undercut the story, and one wonders why Soderbergh decided to pull off these stunts (which couldn't have been easy and certainly flew in the face of what studios think generate box-office) when a more straight-forward presentation might have served the story better. Whatever joys the old techniques generate (one of which is hearing Thomas Newman score a movie in the style of his father, Alfred) aren't worth torpedoing the film.

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