Even before the opening credits roll, it's clear that The Good German is going to be a visually arresting film. Everything from the Warner Brothers logo to the film quality looks straight out of the 1940s, and until Tobey Maguire makes an appearance, you might mistake it for a movie made 60 years ago.
Set in post-war Berlin, Steven Soderbergh's latest tells the story of American journalist Jacob Reismer (Clooney), who once worked in Berlin and returns to cover the Postdam Peace Conference. There, he is assigned a driver named Tully, a gee-whiz American officer taking advantage of the thriving black market—and taking up with Reismer's ex-girlfriend, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett).
Soon, Reismer finds himself entangled in a murderous conspiracy, which as it unfolds pays homage to noir classics like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, as well as the
and the German Trümmerfilms, or rubble films, filmed against the landscape of bombed-out Berlin. The problem with such high-brow references, however, is that The Good German is just okay, so
That's not to say that The Good German is without its strengths. The beautifully textured film captures a unique piece of history, set in a city inhabited by once-normal people who've seen unimaginable horrors. No matter how bad one story seems, "there always something worse." You can sense that in the fallen face of Blanchett and in the combative wit of her roommate, Hannelore, a prostitute played to perfection by Robin Weigert of "Deadwood."
The plot, however, is alternately captivating and completely underwhelming, unraveling so slowly that it nearly drains you of your interest. And while nearly every aspect of the movie recalls its 1940s noir predecessors—right down to the stilted fight scenes—the script and many of the performances feel almost anachronistic. For instance, you'd never hear characters in an actual post-war production dropping f-bombs, nor uttering lines with Maguire's modern inflections.
Such anachronisms would be acceptable were The Good German, like the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, trying to give noir a modern update. But unlike Clooney's previous black-and-white project, Good Night and Good Luck, which perfectly captured its era, The Good German can't quite seem to master its voice.