THE GOOD GERMAN (Steven Soderbergh). 105 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (December 15). For venues and times, see Movies, page 99. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's always fun when a major director gets a big studio to fund his weird art movie project.
The Good German is Steven Soderbergh 's attempt to recreate a 40s studio film with period technology and an Oscar-winning cast -- George Clooney as an American war corresondent covering the Potsdam Conference in postwar Berlin and Cate Blanchett as his ex-lover, now turned to prostitution.
It's not so much fun when the director's fascination with technique -- mmmm, black-and-white! process shots! stock footage! -- overwhelms his interest in the drama, which, despite a lot of twists and turns and apparently relevant moral ideas, turns out to be underwhelming.
The result is a film most enjoyable for its technical elements. There's a bizarre thrill in realizing, as Clooney strides purposefully toward his car, that the process screen is about 4 feet behind the car (you can tell by the shift in the film grain), or in listening to Cate Blanchett try to sound like a European actor playing a European in a Hollywood movie.
The problem is really the performers, whose acting is more modern (that is, post-method) than 40s, when actors spoke much more quickly -- even if Clooney is the most old-fashioned "movie star" actor we have and Blanchett can do almost anything. For all the talk about her uncanny sound-alike Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, the most impressive aspect of her performance was how she nailed Hepburn's bouncy, unswaying walk.
I can't help wondering what the film would have been like if Soderbergh had applied these techniques to a modern story, or had thought harder about this story, about collective guilt and the American attempt to adjust to the second-world-war world. Nazi rocket scientists and Jews suffering from survival guilt aren't exactly original topics.
The Good German wants to be Casablanca and Sophie's Choice, but isn't either.