I was digging on this movie from the get go. From the nostalgic Warner Bros. logo, credits and score, I was pumped for a good old-fashioned movie and in some ways that’s exactly what I got. Shooting it 1940’s style with only tools and techniques available at the time, Soderbergh has made a film directly from the “classic” age of cinema that doesn’t feel gimmicky, the only glaring difference being a lack of Hayes Code candy coating. (Translation: the F-word and boobies). The look and feel of the movie is consistent with the times, with good influence from THE THIRD MAN and CASABLANCA. (The ending scene even takes place at an airport.)
Technically and atmospherically, THE GOOD GERMAN is near perfect, but as a real movie with a well-developed story and characters, it’s a bit of a letdown. The narrative is cliché and predictable with little depth or excitement. (Can we get at least one real twist?) The intermittent narration hurts the pacing and focus of the film, and giving each character three lines of voiceover doesn’t make much sense. The dialogue was otherwise fine but doesn’t really help the actors much. In O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU, George Clooney had no problem channeling Clark Gable, so I was hoping he’d pull a little Bogart on us here. The problem is in the script; while Clooney is playing detective, the story is like a bad CSI episode where the pieces come together by sheer coincidence, making the main character seem lame and ineffectual. Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, is a classic actress stuck in modern times. She’s the only one that feels truly natural handling both the style and dialogue. The way she carries herself or smokes a cigarette—all perfect femme fatale. It’s a huge shame the love story and chemistry between her and Clooney doesn’t work better.
One could make the argument that those faults (stilted acting, cliché story) make it more like an older movie, but a tighter script could have better salvaged Soderbergh's execution. THE GOOD GERMAN straddles the line between 3 and 3.5 stars, but I’ll give it the latter for effort and faux nostalgia.
Extra Tidbit: When I say Soderbergh made the movie the old fashioned way, I mean it. He used old school fixed-length lenses, incandescent lights, hand operated audio boom mics and shot only on soundstages and backlots (with green screen for the car driving scenes).