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Warner Home Video presents
The Good German (2006)

"You should never have come back to Berlin."
- Lena (Cate Blanchett)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: May 29, 2007

Stars: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Toby Maguire
Director: Steven Soderbergh

MPAA Rating: R for language, violence and some sexual content
Run Time: 01h:47m:31s
Release Date: May 22, 2007
UPC: 012569736672
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B+B D-

DVD Review

Steven Soderbergh and his leading man of choice and producing partner, George Clooney, continue to do an extraordinary job ping ponging between popular mainstream fare that's reliable at the box office and the most aesthetically adventurous films being made within the confines of the studio system—it's no accident that this feature is preceded by a trailer for Ocean's 13. The Good German is on some level kind of a stunt, though you'll find almost no documentation of that on this bare-bones disc; it is ultimately a film that's more interesting than it is good, though it's certainly a worthy effort and more intellectually provocative than your typical studio picture with names of those caliber above the title.

In press for this film, Soderbergh spoke wistfully of emulating the career of Michael Curtiz, who churned out movies for decades of very high quality while keeping a relatively low profile—certainly Casablanca was Curtiz's aesthetic and popular apex, but he made crackerjack Westerns, film noirs, adventure pictures and other movies of all sorts without having the signature style of, say, an Alfred Hitchcock. Specifically here, Soderbergh uses only the instruments that Curtiz himself would have had in his toolbox way back when, and Soderbergh wants to explore the tensions between making a movie with those cameras and lenses, one even set back in the day, but unencumbered by the strictures of the Hays Code. (You can just feel the postmodernists getting all goo goo eyed over this one, can't you?) A lot of this feels, then, like a movie you can enjoy from the neck up, more intellectual than visceral in its pleasures.

The story is set in Berlin, in 1945—the war in Europe is over, but the Pacific front rages on as the vanquished and the Allies sort through the shards of bombed-out Germany. Clooney stars as Jacob Geisner, back in town to cover the Potsdam Conference, at which Truman, Stalin and Churchill will draw up the rules for postwar Europe; Jake knows the town and its seamy side, and carries the world weariness of a classical noir hero. As his driver Tully, Tobey Maguire is all appetite—being an American brings you access to all kinds of party favors, and Tully doesn't want to spread democracy, he just wants to get laid. His fräulein of the moment is Lena, played by Cate Blanchett, a sultry German who gives over her body but never her soul. No surprise, then, to learn that Lena and Jake have a history, and the film is about ferreting out the secrets that she has so fiercely guarded.

It's not just Curtiz that Soderbergh is channeling, either—with Clooney as the American seeking out a mystery man in a postwar partitioned German-speaking city, there are obvious affinities with The Third Man (down to a trip into the Berlin sewer system), and there's more than a passing nod to Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair, a story similarly catalyzed by the visit of an American member of Congress to postwar Berlin, and one focusing on the torrid relationship between an American man and a German woman. It's clear in this vein, then, that Blanchett is channeling Marlene Dietrich, and her performance here is kind of a grand homage; she's sultry and wounded, and you can see why every man that comes into contact with her swoons. Maguire is sort of stunning, too, especially if you're just back from Spider-Man 3, as nothing more than a punk in a uniform; at times, though, it looks like Soderbergh doesn't quite have the technical mastery of Curtiz, and Maguire can look like a garishly made up Weimar chorus girl.

Clooney is standup in the central role—he essentially becomes a detective, and there's more than a little forget-it-Jake-it's-Potsdam fatalism here. Paul Attanasio's screenplay has some crackling scenes, but the plot is weighed down by yards and yards of backstory—you'll spend half your time trying to keep up and the other half nodding at the allusions and period technique (the deliberately stilted matte shots, for instance, or the wipes that take us from scene to scene), leaving little or no time left over actually to enjoy the movie.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The DVD offers up some contradictory information: the case reports that the image here is in the original theatrical aspect ratio, but a warning before the run of the picture says that the movie has been cropped to fit the screen. (Soderbergh integrates some small amount of newsreel footage, which is in Academy ratio and in black and white, so you'd think that 1.33 would have been the way to go all around.) The frame does occasionally feel cramped, and that the cinematographic command isn't always quite there; the transfer is a reasonably respectable one, though.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: They might have gone whole hog and with a mono only track; the 5.1 option sounds fine, but the audio challenge of a period piece isn't quite taken up.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Infamous, Letters from Iwo Jima, Ocean's 13, The Painted Veil, American Pastime
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: No extras at all, which is a disappointment—Soderbergh has provided fine commentaries for his own films and has facilitated good ones for others' too (e.g. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), so you can't help but wonder if he's smarting over the critical disdain with which this movie was met.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A worthy exercise, and unquestionably intellectually provocative; whether or not it's genuinely entertaining or engaging is another matter. Still, you've got to admire Soderbergh for continually giving himself new challenges.


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