Review #375 of 365
Movie Review of The Good German (2006) [R] 105 minutes
WIP™ Scale: (1st review $12.25 + 2nd review $14.75) / 2 =$13.50*
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 22 January 2007
Time: 10:40 p.m.
Film's Official Website • Film's Trailer
DVD Release Date: unscheduled
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Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (Bubble)
Screenplay by: Paul Attanasio (The Sum of All Fears) based on the novel by Joseph Kanon
Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Jack Thompson (Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones) • John Roeder (The Still Life) • George Clooney (Syriana) • Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man 2) • Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal) • Tony Curran (Miami Vice) • Ravil Isaynov (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) • Beau Bridges (Charlotte's Web)
Soundtrack: order the CD below
Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Note: Read the non-spoiler review by clicking here. Please be advised that there is a retraction of opinion in this review as well.
To begin, I'd like to start off with a slight apology. It doesn't happen very often, but when the supply of movies released is sufficiently low, I am afforded occasionally the opportunity to see a film for a second time within a short time-span. Such was the case of yesterday when I saw The Good German for the second day in a row. I discovered upon my second viewing so much more about the film that I had not seen the day before. Of course, a second viewing affords the opportunity to play closer attention to small details. While the plot twists are no longer new, the clues are more visible. Sometimes, a second viewing of a film reveals much that was missed the first time around. From the moment the film started until the classic words "The End" flashed on the screen, I saw The Good German in a whole new light. Yes, I did focus on the artistry of the film more, the sets, the costumes, the lighting design, the techniques. I'm still going to go on the side that some of these were still borderline equivalents of stunt-casting, nonetheless, director Steven Soderbergh's tribute and recreation of the look and feel of a 1940s classic black and whiter film was quite successful in its accomplishment of this feat. Yesterday, I was highly critical of the other two leads, Tobey Maguire and George Clooney as being nearly fish out of water in 1945. A second time around this didn't bother me, and I understood the character of each far better than before. Meanwhile, I doubted the relevancy of this story to people today. I couldn't have been more off base with that assertion. The second time around, I drew striking parallels between some of the attitudes and stories of the Germans living under Nazi rule and the complacency on earth right now toward atrocities going on each and every day by countless misguided regimes. I re-visited my thinking and agreed that we can never be reminded too many times of the ease with which, as a species, we are capable of justifying nearly anything, no matter how terrible or terrifying, unethical or immoral, arrogant or abhorrent.
"Cate Blanchett's performance as Lena Brandt…is one of the best in the film, and certainly one of the most complicated and stunning in a year of her greatest performances."
Spoiler Review Alert:
So, for those who haven't the time nor inclination to see the film a second time, permit me to fill in some of the gaps with some spoilers and to further hail the film with things only possible, probably, from a second screening. The dialogue is crisp, sharp, and loaded. Pay attention all the way through for the clues to what is really going on, and remember, you are seeing the film through the eyes of Jake Geismer (George Clooney) most of the time. Some narration throughout by other characters gives you their perspective, but most of the time the film is really about Jake. So, Jake arrives in Berlin to cover the Potsdam conference between Stalin, Churchill, and Truman to settle the score for the future of the world in the summer of 1945. The Japanese will be a war for only so much longer not realizing that atomic weapons are heading their way soon. Upon arriving, he's picked up at the airport by a G.I. named Patrick Tully (Tobey Maguire), an enterprising little guy whose been drawn into a far larger web than he realizes. At the heart of the intrigue lies a Nazi scientist named Franz Bettmann (David Willis) whom the USAers have managed to swing over to their side since he's the guy who ran the V2 rocket program. The US military, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, has designs on attaching their new atomic bombs to the ends of V2 rockets thereby creating delivery systems for the weapons that would allow an attack against any city in the world with the push of a button. With this technology in their hands alone, the idea would be to keep the world at peace out of fear of destruction. Meanwhile, the Russians are exporting as much physical capital from Germany as they can get their hands on and kidnapping as many scientists off the streets as they can get their hands on. This despicable and deplorable reality, especially when President Truman indicates via newsreel in actual archival footage that the Allies have no desire for one iota of territory or financial gains from this war, just world peace. We and Jake are duped into thinking that Bettman has asked the USA to get ahold of all o his former co-workers, the most knowledgeable of whom was Franz Bettman's secretary, Emil Brandt (Christian Oliver), to take them back to the USA with them, when, in fact, the US military needs to get rid of them as they know what Bettman really did and that he should be tried as a Nazi war criminal for overseeing a forced slave labor camp that built the V2 rockets. Over 30,000 people died in that camp. But, Jake is too distracted along the way to see the truth of what is going on despite the clues. When Tully helps him unpack on his first night, he swipes his wallet intending to use his credentials later to get into the Russian Zone to meet with a general. The meeting with General Sikorsky (Ravil Isaynov) was originally going to be about selling 40 cases of Scotch, but as the US military government is so hell bent on finding Emil Brandt, they play knock Tully around trying to get him to spill the beans about his whereabouts—they know something Tully doesn't—his girlfriend is Emil's estranged wife, Lena (Cate Blanchett). When Tully finds this out, he makes a decision that gets him killed, he decides to try to sell Emil Brandt to the highest bidder even though he's not sure if Emil is alive or dead. In the mean time, Jake just happens to run into Tully and Lena in a club. Turns out that Lena was a stringer for Jake in Berlin before the war. Despite this being an awfully close coincidence, he goes along with it and just feels so happy to see her. That is until the next day, Tully turns up dead in a river just outside the peace conference with $50,000 occupation marks stuffed in his clothes. After this, the web of intrigue only gets deeper and deeper. It is more and more clear that Lena is hiding something, what, he's not sure. Turns out she's hiding everything and nothing about her is true. Emil is alive, she shot and killed Tully, and she is a Jewish woman who lost her entire family to the gas chambers and in a desperate attempt to save herself after the Nazis decide that a Jewish woman married to an SS officer just wasn't a good idea turned in a dozen Jewish people in hiding to the Gestapo. In her words, she did it to survive. However, it is obvious the guilt will way on her the rest of her life. As Jake starts to unravel the mystery and figures out that his own government is in collusion to protect a Nazi war criminal, it's nearly too late. He makes one more sacrifice of his own ethics to get Lena safely out of Berlin, choosing his love for her over his conscience and hers.
"Soderbergh…really did do a phenomenal job of recreating the look and feeling of a 1940s thriller classic…"
When it comes to the script and the writing, again, it is superb with the possible exception of the repeated use of the 'f' word that simply seemed out of place in a 1940s esque film. The violence was, also, a bit less restrained. As for the direction and Soderbergh's choices, he really did do a phenomenal job of recreating the look and feeling of a 1940s thriller classic. I still feel the musical score was a bit too foreboding and ominous most of the time. But everything else was spot on. Making this film in black and white using these techniques was a real gamble. However, the level of authenticity and homage to the past was admirable. Thus increases the scrutiny of films that rely too heavily on special effects rather than excellent camera work, light and set design, and the raw unobstructed acting out of the characters lives as they unfold on screen. The film is an entirely new world of possibilities upon a second viewing, where the heavy pretense can melt to the back ground a bit and allow for the film to really take hold. There is much to learn and contemplate historically in the film from the guilt of those who colluded with horrible people as their only option to survival, to those that just turned a blind eye, to a nation that would endure historically tumultuous times for decades recovering from a hellacious guilt associated with the genocidal practices of their former sovereign, now occupied, nation. At what point in time can the healing process finally begin?
Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word review of this film]
Other Projects Featuring The Good German (2006)
Jack Thompson • John Roeder • George Clooney
Tobey Maguire • Cate Blanchett • Tony Curran
Ravil Isaynov • Beau Bridges
The Good German (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]