Fans of old movies - and George Clooney - will be immediately seduced by 'The Good German'. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and based on the novel by Joseph Kanon, it is a stylish film noir homage shot in handsome black-and-white. From the poster design to the opening credits, the old-fashioned orchestral score by Thomas Newman to the archive footage of Berlin in 1945 that Soderbergh integrates into his movie, this is filmmaking from another era.
War correspondent Jake Geismer (Clooney) is in post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam Peace Conference. As Allied leaders meet to deliberate the fate of a vanquished Germany and a newly liberated Europe, Jake's attention is focused elsewhere. He gets involved in an investigation involving his murdered driver - a rotten-to the-core GI called Patrick Tully (Maguire) - and former mistress Lena Brandt (Blanchett). Tully, Lena's current squeeze, is moonlighting as a smuggler until he gets curious about her theoretically deceased Nazi scientist husband and turns up in the river adjacent to the Potsdam Conference with a bullet in his back. In this atmosphere no one can be trusted and everybody can be bought - for a price.
A shadowy thriller, 'The Good German' twists and turns around and into itself in the best noir tradition as Jake stumbles and fumbles his way, several beatings later, to an unsavoury truth. But this movie is not about the ending or, unfortunately, the plot - it's about the elegant way that it gets there.
Soderbergh concentrates so much on reproducing the mise-en-scène of the 1940s that the characters suffer. It is difficult to become involved in a film when you don't really care about anyone on screen. Tully is a belligerent bully. Lovelorn punchbag Jake never manages to rekindle any old flames or any kind of spark with the chilly, beautiful Lena. Moral and ethical questions about war crimes and the things people do to survive are touched on but not delved into enough to engage an audience.
As proved in last year's 'Good Night, And Good Luck', George Clooney has the kind of face that is perfectly suited to black-and-white. Filling out a service uniform solidly, he is an ideal war-weary hack. Cate Blanchett, too, makes a convincing retro lead. An impeccable femme fatale, complete with a throaty, indeterminate-accented voice, she looks and plays the final 'Casablanca'-homage scene to perfection. The one actor that seems most out of place and his own time is the squeaky-voiced, baby-faced Tobey Maguire.
With more than a few nods to the all-time war film classic 'Casablanca', as well as a few in the direction of 'The Third Man' and even 'Chinatown', 'The Good German' may be a treat for cineastes but will leave the cineplexes cold.