Sunday, December 31, 2006

Film Review: "The Good German"

This is another of those films that try to substitute the obtuseness of plot for the complexity of human experience.

I am not going to describe the manifold twists and turns of the story...I don't really remember/understand all of them...and I'm not going to see the film again just to figure them all out. Suffice it to say: George Clooney, as a reporter for New Republic magazine, returns to Berlin soon after the German surrender in 1944, gets involved with an old German/Jewish love (Cate Blanchett doing her Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich turn...and pretty well, as she does almost anything she attempts in acting). Upon arrival, Clooney is soon beset with attackers. Why? Because everybody wants to find Blanchett's disappeared husband...who is occupationally tied to a great German rocket scientist cum Nazi cum war criminal whom the US wants to get on their post-war side (to develop new and better bombs, of course).

What follows is mystery, intrigue, and the expected political statements (stated, unfortunately, as 'preaching' and not dramatized as part of strong and subtle character agruments...Rule #1 for good political films: always give the other guy his fair and serious say!!) It seems baby boomers like Clooney and Steven Soderbergh--the director--don't need to give the other side their due...they are so SURE they are right).

Soderbergh pays homage to (steals from?) other films, in particular two great war (one a post-war film, one set during the war) films, "The Third Man", and "Casablanca". Ripping off from the former in "The Good German" he creates a pale comparison of 'The Third Man"'s scene, mood and relevance; whereas in his 'homage' to the latter film, he thematically debunks "Casablanca"s' great end-of-his-movie lovers-separating scene. In "The Good German" the ending becomes a cynical act of selfish survival, rather than, as in Casablanca, a brilliant scene of lovers-sacrificing-their-togetherness-for-the-greater-good. Oh well, I suppose that's the price of social evolution of the last 50 years; the disappearance of concepts of human nobility, idealism, and self-sacrifice, not to mention perhaps civilization itself.

Tobey Maguire is in the film; unfortunately. He is particularly bad in a very short role (why did he take it?). I'm not a big fan anyway, but this help me keep my prejudice intact. I am generally prejudiced towards George Clooney's acting however; it again holds; he is fine here, maybe a bit soft. (Maybe it's from being puched around so much in the first half hour of the film!)

I did not get involved in the film for the first 53 minutes, however (Yes, I timed it!). True, it held my interest increasingly after that. However, by 53 minutes into a film I'm not a happy viewer; I begrudge any film that keeps me hanging around for a great length of time just because I have no idea what is going on. It's like some conversations; conversing with someone when you understand each word they say, but their sentences, much less their paragraphs, don't make any sense. What I look for in a film is simply: let me know what going on on some level...on some story level have it make sense; it is clear...then, properly set up, I am more than willing--nay, eager--to be surprised with deeper, fuller and more unexpected twists and turns as the film progresses. But don't ever keep me totally confused from word one.

See "The Third Man". See the subject of the Allies occupation of Europe treated with greatness;
with subtlety, seriousness, true complexity, without the need to resort to cheap cynicism and easy over-judgment. You want cynicism that attains atrt, see and hear Orson Welle's great speech in that film about peace and Switzerland. I paraphrase: Switzerland may have had peace for five hundred years but accept that Switzerland's only contribution to civilization during that time: chocolate and the cuckoo clock.

See "Casablanca"...the greatest film ever made.

See, in fact, this year's German language film: "Lives of Others". It achieves what "The Good German" only attempts.


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