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Steven Soderbergh
George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Jack Thompson, John Roeder, Dominic Comperatore, Dave Power, Tony Curran
Writing Credits:
Paul Attanasio, Joseph Kanon (novel)

If war is hell then what comes after?

Who knows what American journalist Jake Geismer (George Clooney) expected to find in postwar Berlin? Peace, maybe. Or at least a story. But certainly not Lena (Cate Blanchett), his beautiful, embittered one-time love. And not the trail of secrecy and deception that leads from Lena to the scheming young corporal (Tobey Maguire) who's her new lover ... and to a murder no one seems interested in solving. Except Jake. Steven Soderbergh directs three of today's top talents in this zigzag thriller that's both an atmospheric homage to 1940s filmmaking and a deft modern film noir. The Good German is "haunting and hypnotic, it's pure moviegoing bliss" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone).

Box Office:
$32 million.
Opening Weekend
$76.817 thousand on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.290 million.

Rated R

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 5/22/2007

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The Good German (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 21, 2007)

Director Steven Soderbergh throws another experimental flick our way with 2006’s The Good German. Not only does Soderbergh set the flick at the end of World War II, but also he films and stages it like something made in that era. Set in Berlin soon after the end of the European conflict, German comes on the eve of the Potsdam conference that featured leaders Harry S Truman, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin.

Cynical journalist Jake Geismer (George Clooney) comes to Berlin to cover the session, and the Army assigns him a driver named Tully (Tobey Maguire). However, Tully’s not an ordinary driver. While he maintains an ingenuous apple pie demeanor, behind the scenes he bangs a prostitute named Lena (Cate Blanchett) and runs a thriving black market operation. Tully really cares for Lena, though, and he wants to help get her out of the country before the war trials begin.

Various parties seek Emil Brandt, a former Nazi scientist who just happens to be Lena’s husband. Some think he’s dead, but not everyone, and some authorities want possession of him. Tully claims he can deliver Emil but wants 200,000 marks and papers to get Lena out of the country. Of course, he knows nothing of Emil’s location, but he plans to scam his way into money and out of Germany.

Matters complicate when Geismer chastises Tully and realizes he knows Lena too. They shared both a professional and personal relationship in the past, and Geismer clearly continues to maintain feelings for her. Various other complications develop as the movie follows different paths in post-war Berlin.

When Soderbergh concentrates on making films and being a real director, he’s about the best there is in the current scene. When Soderbergh decides to play movie geek and taking advantage of his clout and wide array of Hollywood connections, he can become tedious.

The Soderbergh of German mostly falls into the latter category. I guess he decided to make the film this way just because he could. It sounds like the kind of project thought up over a tipsy dinner party – let’s make a movie just like the ones from 60 years ago!

That’s a gimmick, and not a particularly strong one. After all, don’t we already have hundreds of movies filmed using the same techniques? Why do this in 2006? In a confusing move, Soderbergh doesn’t even follow his concept to its logical conclusion. While he used mostly equipment and techniques that existed in 1945, he features a 5.1 soundtrack. Shouldn’t the movie be monaural? And he also ignored the production code of the era, so we get violence, nudity and language that wouldn’t have flown in 1945. Why pick and choose what elements you want to use? If you desire to experiment, go all the way, Steve!

There’s really no point to the period design, and the whole project feels woefully contrived. All of these trappings seem designed to distract us from the emptiness at the heart of German. The story dances around in a way that makes it look like something’s happening but not much ever does. It dangles plot elements at us but it never pursues them in an intriguing manner.

Instead, it concentrates on all its fabulous production and visual choices. If ever a movie emphasized style over substance, German fits that bill. It takes pieces from better films – a little Casablanca here, a little Third Man there – but it doesn’t integrate them into a satisfying product.

At best, The Good German provides a marginally interesting mystery. Unfortunately, the movie rarely achieves its best, and most of it comes across as a confused, gimmicky piece of nonsense. Take away the quirky period trappings and this is a forgettable effort.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus D-

The Good German appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Due to its stylistic choices, it became a little tough to objectively judge the visuals of German. Overall, however, I though the transfer had some problems it could’ve avoided.

Sharpness presented some of these concerns. Though much of the movie boasted good definition and clarity, wide shots often came across as a bit weak. I noticed some edge haloes, and the elements could seem less concise than I’d like. Some of this came from the lighting, as the movie featured an overblown look much of the time. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering marred the presentation, though.

Source flaws also failed to materialize. Actually, we got some marks during archival footage, but I didn’t factor those shots into my grade, as I didn’t think that made sense. Blacks were a little inky, while shadows tended to appear somewhat murky. Enough of the flick looked good enough to merit a “B-“, but the image wasn’t terrific.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Good German, it seemed acceptable. The movie didn’t boast much sonic ambition. Since I thought it should’ve been mono, that was fine, though on the other hand, if the filmmakers decided to embrace modern technology, they probably should’ve gone for a more encompassing mix.

For the most part, the soundfield seemed low-key. A few scenes managed to open up matters a bit, though these weren’t memorable. Club scenes featured nice audience atmosphere, and street scenes did the same. We got a few shots with military machinery that also broadened in a moderate manner. Music showed nice stereo presence, while the surrounds added a bit of atmosphere. We didn’t get a lot of ambition here, though.

Audio quality was solid. Speech seemed natural and concise, with no edginess or other problems. Music fared best of all, as the score showed nice clarity and smoothness. Effects also came across as accurate and full. This wasn’t a memorable track, but it did okay for itself.

Virtually no supplements appear here. A few Previews open the DVD. We get ads for Infamous, Letters from Iwo Jima, Ocean’s 13, The Painted Veil, and American Pastime.

The Good German feels like a lark, a project designed to satisfying Steven Soderbergh’s inner film geek. It possesses some intriguing elements on the surface but it fails to explore them and ends up as a gimmick in search of a story. The DVD presents perfectly satisfactory picture and audio but includes almost no extras. I can’t recommend this unmemorable movie, especially since it’s such a lackluster DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.1666 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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