Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Good German


This should have been a real crackerjack, and part of it is. Steven Soderbergh is a hell of a good director, and I understand the book this was based on was a good one. It attempts to look like it was actually made in 1945, and except for a very few camera moves that seem a bit slick, it is amazing. And no wonder, since they used all period equipment and techniques, such as incandescent lighting and old lenses and camera. (I was pissed off at first when the card came up saying “This movie has been formatted to fit your screen,”—I hate that!—but then I realized it had to be TV-screen sized because that was how all films were made in 1945, and in fact when it was shown in theaters it was vertically letterboxed because modern projectors can’t handle square film frames.) The scenes in cars are clunky and back-projected: perfect! The B&W film is often overexposed when in sunlight—exactly right!—and the indoor lighting is perfect for the shadowy noir effects. It evokes those classic neo-realist post-war films from Fellini and De Sica. There is a fine sequence during a parade that is pure Hitchcock. Secret Agent, or maybe Foreign Correspondent. The ending is pure Casablanca, some of the shots of the airplane on the tarmac are virtual replicas. I liked that. The music is perfect.

So where did it go wrong? Cate Blanchett is her usual wonderful self, and I barely recognized her at first. She is lit gorgeously. If her cheekbones were any sharper you could cut paper with them. Her voice is sultry. But there is very little chemistry between her and George Clooney, and I’m not sure why. It’s just something you know when you see it, and it wasn’t there. The plot was confusing and the ending abrupt. (That’s all? That was her big secret?) It also concerns a Big Secret about how the V-2 rockets were made with starving slave labor, just at the point when we were smuggling German scientists to the US to work on rockets for us. It took a lot of the tension out of it for me to know that we just didn’t care if Werner von Braun, or whatever his phony name was here, knew that, or even participated in it. (I believe he did, and isn’t it ironic that man’s greatest achievement, landing on the moon, was jump-started by one of our worst nightmares, the Nazi extermination of social undesirables?)

I really wanted to like this and I gave it every possible chance, but it finally foundered on poor storytelling. No technical gimmick can rescue a movie from that.