Drive-By Movie Review: The Good German

This is a review of the 2006 movie The Good German starring George Clooney, Tobey Maguire, and Cate Blanchette

Plot Summary: While in post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, an American military journalist is drawn into a murder investigation which involves his former mistress and his driver.

The Honeybee: I really hate old movies.

Me: You do, do ya?  Define old.

The Honeybee: I don’t know – I never really thought about it.

Me: I guess it’s kind of like that infamous Supreme Court ruling on pornography – you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it?

The Honeybee: Exactly.

Me: Hmm. Do you consider American Pie to be an old movie?

The Honeybee: Of course not.

Me: How about Fatal Attraction?

The Honeybee: Please.

Me: Ghost Busters?

The Honeybee: Nope.

Me: Rocky?

The Honeybee: Which one?

Me: The best one; the original.

The Honeybee: No.

Me: Dr. Strangelove?

The Honeybee: Huh?

Me: Okay, I think I’ve got my answer.  I take it you weren’t a big fan of this week’s movie, The Good German, were you?

The Honeybee: For me, the first strike was it was done in black and white.

Me: That it was.  Adventurous director Steven Soderbergh, of Sex, Lies and Video Tape and Traffic fame obviously set out to make The Good German as much like a forties noir movie as possible using classic 40s era cinematography – right down to your dreaded black and white film.

The Honeybee: I hate black and white movies.  He even made the film look “scratchy” in places, which I found annoying.

Me: That was a nice touch, I thought.  Soderbergh’s attention to detail was quite keen.  Really, the only thing missing was the old Hayes Code restrictions on sex, violence and bad language.

The Honeybee: So why, when you were watching the movie, did the look on your face make it seem like you ate a plate of bad clams?

Me: Maybe it’s because I think so much effort was spent by Soderbergh and the producers on recreating the 40s noir, that the plot really suffered.

The Honeybee: And that was strike two.  The movie was supposed to be a romantic thriller that takes place as World War II comes to a close, but I wasn’t thrilled at all.

Me: Cate Blanchett plays a Jewish German named Lena who tells everybody that the only reason she escaped the gas chambers is because she was the ex-wife of a supposedly dead SS soldier.  Tobey Maguire plays her boyfriend, a violent and abusive military driver named Tully. Then there’s our hero, a military correspondent named Captain Jake Geismer, played by George Clooney.

The Honeybee: Lena and Jake have a history, and when he returns to Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, he finds her trysting with Tully.

Me: The rest of the movie focuses on Lena’s struggle to get out of Berlin, and an extremely lame murder investigation involving Tully and Lena.

The Honeybee: I thought the acting was mixed.  Cate Blanchett did a good job.

Me: You thought so?  I thought she was trying just a bit too hard to emulate Marlene Dietrich.

The Honeybee: Who?

Me: Marlene – oh, never mind.

The Honeybee: I thought Clooney’s character was very boring.  It’s like he was just going through the motions.

Me: So what else is new?  I’ve seen mannequins at Macy’s with more personality.

The Honeybee: You know who did do a good job?  Tobey Maguire did a great job playing Tully.

Me: Come to think of it, Tobey Maguire was pretty decent.

The Honeybee: Yes!  While he was on screen, the movie actually had some life to it.

Me: Yeah.  Unfortunately for both of us he was gunned down twenty minutes into the movie – and once he was gone, I really lost interest quickly, as neither the usually reliable Blanchett or the stiff-as-a-board Clooney could resuscitate The Good German.

The Honeybee: I wish somebody would have resuscitated me, because I found myself fighting off a coma about an hour into the movie.

Me: Cute.  Personally, if you’re looking for a proper homage to 40s style movie-making, I suggest you’d be much better off renting Young Frankenstein – at least that movie was entertaining.

The Honeybee: Wasn’t that movie in black and white?

Me: Yes.

The Honeybee: Then forget it.

Me: While The Good German certainly looked like a forties style movie, it lacked the quality of the movies it tried so hard to emulate from the period, like Casablanca.  Not so ironically, all of Soderbergh’s efforts to create that 40s feel ended up being sabotaged by the sex, language and violence in the The Good German – stuff you’d never find in true 40s noir.

The Honeybee: Well, I don’t care what period we’re talking about – 40s, 50s, 60s – this movie was a total failure.

Me: The Good German was definitely a bad movie.  I guess it’s safe to say we both rate this as “sell.”

The Honeybee: Sell?  “Suck” is a much more accurate description.  Talk about two hours of my life I’ll never get back…

Me: But “suck” isn’t one of our official ratings, Honeybee.  It’s “buy, rent, or sell.”

The Honeybee: It is now.  “Suck.”

Me: Okay.  But I hope you don’t mind — I have to publish your official rating in black and white.

The Honeybee: Whatever.  Just make sure you spell it correctly.

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