Monday, June 13, 2011

The Good German (2006)

Certainly Worthwhile But Tragically Flawed....

- The Good German is a generally impressive but also tragically flawed film. With so many elements that together had the potential to make the film a great modern film noir, The Good German suffers from a couple of deadly flaws that pierces the chinks in its own armor.

The film's story, overall, seems to be an interesting post-World War II murder/political mystery in the same vein as The Third Man (1949): American military journalist Jake Geismer (George Clooney), in war-ravaged Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, stumbles into a murder mystery surrounding his former-lover Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett).

Unfortunately, the details of the story are kind of fuzzy. The film is very muddy and very difficult to follow; but on top of that, the motives of the characters are either unclear or illogical. The Good German is no The Third Man. Oh what a bummer!

Also, no reason exists for why the character of Tully appears in the film as long as he does, other than to perhaps irritate the audience - irritation is about the only feeling I got from the character anyway. Tully exists as a catalyst for the story and an obstacle for our heroes a couple of times but is certainly not an interesting character and does not carry a lot of weight in the film, just a lot of screen time.... for some reason.

So, yes, Tully is a horribly realized and almost pointless character on paper - but, to add insult to injury, Tobey Maguire is the actor cast to portray him.... And my, oh my, does Maguire ever give a bad performance in this film! Maguire has never particularly impressed me in any of his roles outside the film in the first place, so I do come at this point with a bit of a bias, but he is so horribly miscast and especially terrible in The Good German that it is almost impossible to comprehend. Maguire ends up whining and squealing when trying to deliver forceful dialogue, sounding pathetic every time he utters an expletive (something that the Tully character does alot, unfortunately), and he, quite simply, floats through the entire film failing miserably at convincing as the supposedly tough wild man that is Tully. For my money, the miscast Maguire poisons much of the film.

While Maguire and a muddy story hurt the film severely, a lot of other admirable elements course through the reels of The Good German; unfortunately, they are just not good enough to completely redeem what could have been a great film.

For one thing, most of the performances outside of Maguire are actually quite excellent. Cate Blanchett gives an A+ performance, as usual: mysterious and elegant as the sexy femme fatale Lena Brandt (Ms. Blanchett does a great German accent too, I might add). It is a dark horse highlight of Blanchett's career, I would argue.

George Clooney also gives a strong performance that surely ranks among his very best performances as Jake Geismer. Clooney plays the quintessential noir hero - cynical, lost in a spinning web of mystery, and betrayed by love - and is quite good at it.

Secondly, The Good German happens to be a fantastic-looking movie as director Steven Soderbergh employs a wonderful 40s film noir throw-back style that also has a contemporary feel. A very dark black-and-white coloring adds to the danger and mystery that surrounds every plot turn – and The Good German is subsequently a very atmospheric film, even if you are not quite sure what is going on.

Adding to the film's atmosphere is the great Oscar-nominated Thomas Newman score. Newman's signature sound – that one might associate with the likes of American Beauty or Finding Nemo – is absent from this picture. Instead, Newman also takes a throw-back approach to the 40s-style of film score that is both haunting and beautiful.

Overall, the fact that The Good German is ruined by muddy storytelling and a horrible performance of an annoying main character is just really frustratingly sad because there are a lot of other admirable aspects to it. While The Good German does have a sizable amount of good qualities, the flaws are large enough to make the film tread water, if not sink a bit. However, I do think that the performances, cinematography, and score make The Good German worth a look on a dark and quiet night.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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