Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Goodish German

Last winter, Warner Bros released Steven Soderberg's THE GOOD GERMAN to an unsuspecting (more appropriately non-existent) audience. George Clooney - Cate Blanchet - Tobey Maguire!!! Huge names... sadly, though, the film evaporated from theaters and I never got a chance to view it. Last night it arrived from Netflix... and nearly pissed me off completely!

The main problem is in the casting - Clooney is not nearly as strong as you would think... he lacks the charisma that everyone says he is supposed to have! Blanchet is actually pitch perfect in her role - but it is Maguire that nearly destroys this picture - and I really put all the blame on Soderberg for allowing him to take the role and also in his failure to handle the opening 30 minutes which Maguire dominates! I almost shut the film off because it offended my filmic senses (which are quite well tuned!) - combining old Hollywood look and feel (lighting - editing - pacing - music) with contemporary language and scenes (f**k everything... sex scenes - nudity!). The style combined with Maguire sent me running for my remote.

Yet, I held on... and I am really glad I did. THE GOOD GERMAN really picks up at the 30 minute mark. The style of the film found it's rhythm and I began to fall in love with it. I truly love the late 30's and 40's Warner Bros./ Michael Curtiz B-pictures that soared with style - cool B&W photography - and Frank Waxman tunes to highlight the story in such grand fashion! CASABLANCA... THE THIRD MAN... MILDRED PIERCE... beautiful films that showed off true stars of Hollywood days long gone... stars that could truly hold the camera's eye with just a look. THE GOOD GERMAN finds a few of those moments.

Most of them happen when Cate Blanchet is on the screen - this woman is phenomenal! Her work in THE AVIATOR opened my eyes to her as a graceful-Hollywood of old-type actress (of course, she was playing Katherine Hepburn - so it was an easy leap). Now with this film, I can definitely see her moving into another realm of "star." She owns every frame she is in... she eats Clooney and Maguire alive!! And even with all of the plot twists and revelations that change the characters - Blanchet holds onto the gold in the film.

By the end of the picture, I really wanted to toss in THE THIRD MAN and cleanse my palette with a truly wonderful film from those long gone wonderful Hollywood days of old. THE GOOD GERMAN wants us to remember those films... wonder at Soderberg's ability to recreate those films... yet it also tends to frustrate the viewer. If the director has such a talent to make this - then why does it feel so empty so often? How could Soderberg really let Maguire to continue in his role (for God's sake his is one of three narrators!!! He is a third of the film!!!)? If Soderberg has enough talent to make something so close to the films we love... why can't he just make one? I am sure he is similar to Gus Van Sant - ya know, the director that re-did PSYCHO shot by shot... except for a few changes. Those changes destroyed any joy that I had for the picture - the changes were the directors statement of "improvement" - a note that he was not copying - just showing that he could do films like that but he is also a step ahead (though both films show that this is a mistake). THE GOOD GERMAN definitely suffers because of Soderberg - but there is a pearl of a film in there. Sift through some muck... and you could have a truly magnificent time.


(p.s. there is some amazing photography happening in the film - some stuff that reminded me of Stanley Cortez's work in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS!!! - Probably worth viewing just to see some of the images.)


Buttercup said...

Nice to see you back at the blog it has been a while. Besides the Dr. Jones post I have missed the witty banter at the wasteland that is the blog

Sheriff Officer Greg the Bunny said...

Spider-man in this film?!?!?!?!

Cate is great.

Will go on the Q today.


Damfino said...

Blog is a wasteland - too true. I don't really have the heart or the time anymore... but today I am waiting on a 3 pm show... so it is a good time waster!

How is the gestating going Drea?

Sheriff - let me know when you watch it... I have not met anyone else who has seen it!


c-note said...

I don't really have anything good to say about the movie. I got bored with it halfway through and left the room before it ended!

Sheriff Officer Greg the Bunny said...


as you have now learned Jed's criteria for a film go beyond "is it entertaining?" and flow into the how the film is made arena. even after the non-film majors leave the room, Jed can still find slivers of hope in the way the film is made.

And we still love him after all that...hummm...we must really be good people.


c-note said...

We are really good people!!

It is amazing Jed still wants to watch movies with me since my review of a movie consists of "That was really good!" or "I didn't like that at all." That's about all the detail I go into!

Kern said...

Damn, late to the party again!

All I can say is while I haven't seen this yet, I really enjoyed Jed's summation as it really captures a lot of the frustration I have with remakes and homages in general. I'm not sure if anyone will agree with this, but I think part of it is the current audience mindset in a way that encourages these kinds of films in the sense that directors today are very into winks and nods, irony and cleverness, and as they become so consumed with making witty facsimiles of great films of bygone eras, they actually forget to make a great film that would have fit a bygone era.

I think one potentially good example of someone in the past ten years or so that a director got the feel of one of his predecessors without completely and explicitly remaking a film was David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner. I got a real old school Hitchcock vibe from that movie(perhaps incorrectly), with its plot twists and interesting characters. It fit his vibe without needing to flash a badge saying, "Hey Audience, I'm remaking (Insert Hitchcock Film Here)".

In any case, great observation, Fino.