Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
"The Good German" film review
Film Review
by Harvey Perr
The Good German
now playing in select cities
“The Good German” wants to have it every which way. It wants to be a 1940s film, right down to its look and its romantic cynicism, but injected with the kind of sex, violence, and rough language that weren’t allowed in movies then. And it wants to throw into the mix a moral complexity that was not exactly the sort of thing that old films are remembered for. Director Steven Soderbergh and his editor Mary Ann Bernard (who is really Steven Soderbergh) and his cinematographer Peter Andrews (who is really Steven Soderbergh)  and his screenwriter Paul Attanasio (who, to my knowledge, is really Paul Attanasio) should be put in a corner and made to watch Todd Haynes’s “Far From Heaven” at least a hundred times to see how it can be done. For one thing, the film does not look like a 1940s American film; it looks like a lovingly reconstructed bad print of a European art film of the early 1950s. It may recreate in elegant detail the last scene of “Casablanca,” but all it manages to do is to conjure up the memory of a better film and to  remind us that, back then, we were dealing with adults who spoke to each other intelligently about things that mattered, and were so richly drawn that they etched themselves into the cinematic iconography of our hearts. Moral complexity was merely implied then, but it was certainly part of the equation. They were not the cardboard characters of “The Good German,” who never engage each other in meaningful ways and therefore never engage us at all. Soderbergh also means to have Berlin substitute for the Vienna of “The Third Man,” where the rot of war-torn Vienna became a poetic metaphor for the story of “The Third Man” itself. Berlin, in ravishingly recreated rubble, provides very little atmosphere and becomes mere background for a witless plot that needs all the background it can get. Finally, the film “The Good German” visually resembles most is Billy Wilder’s too little-known “A Foreign Affair,” in which Wilder played post-war Berlin for laughs – so naturally it was funnier, but it was also truer and nastier. And we didn’t need to see Tobey Maguire take Cate Blanchett from the rear to understand what nastiness is. We had imaginations then.
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