The Good German ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The Good German is, at its heart, Mirror Casablanca where it feels someone should have a prominent goatee. I suppose it ought to be General Sikorsky as the relatively benign "counterpart" to Major Strasser. Where Casablanca is wry, The Good German is thoroughly cynical. There's no joy here, and not even much in the way of charm or chemistry from any of the talented cast.

It's fun in a perverse way, I suppose, to watch Tobey Maguire behave so despicably but he's gone 20 minutes into the film so that doesn't last long. Cate Blanchett gamely tries to make Lena Brandt into a sympathetic/mysterious femme fatale, but she's so constrained by the role that her performance doesn't feel organic. Only George Clooney, as Jacob Geisman, holds the screen well. His curiosity, frustration and determination all play well and ring true. The ease with which he's beaten up in no less than three different fights becomes tiresome, though.

Moreover, there's greater emphasis on plot twists than in plot development. By the time we confirm that Emil Brandt is still alive, it feels that we've solved the mystery and will finally have the payoff for the investment of our time but instead he's killed and we're back to the strong-armed horse trading with nothing really to show for any of it. It seems no one really gets what he or she wants except, ostensibly, Lena, but she's so sullen that her boarding the plane feels as though she's been thoroughly defeated.

I do admire and enjoy the style of The Good German quite a lot, though, even if its substance is lacking. The DVD package calls the film "both an atmospheric homage to 1940s filmmaking and a deft modern film noir". I may dispute how deft a modern film noir it is, but it's unquestionably an "atmospheric" film. Much like 1941, all the ingredients are in place for a film much better than the one we have.

In theory, The Good German is about a postwar reckoning of sorts. It's one of the grandest stages for storytelling in all of recorded history and yet the film is so committed to its cynicism that there's little humanity to be found here. It would have been far better to have played as a drama rather than as a film noir, I think...but, of course, no one asked me.

The Good German Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#854/1515)

The Good German < Ghosts of Girlfriends Past --> #854
I dig the style of The Good German, but not its joyless, cynical substance. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past appeals to me as a longtime fan of A Christmas Carol, plus it's fun to watch Michael Douglas channel Nicholson.

The Good German > Last Action Hero --> #854
Last Action Hero is more fun than its reputation admits, and I don't really have much connection to The Good German but I do enjoy its aesthetics enough for it to win here (barely).

The Good German < Time Bandits --> #949
Soderbergh nailed the technical stuff with The Good German, but forgot to develop any characters to whom we could connect. Going with Time Bandits here for being such fun. Also: Connery!

The Good German > Liar, Liar --> #949
I liked the premise of Liar, Liar but it's too bogged down in being a Jim Carrey comedy for its own good. I'm mixed on The Good German but I like enough about it to pick it here.

The Good German > The Pallbearer --> #949
Things I like about The Good German: Its aesthetics, Clooney, Maguire as a real s.o.b. Things I like about The Pallbearer: ...

The Good German < Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero --> #972
I want to like both of these more than I do. Since there are probably as many things to like as there are to dislike about both films, I defer to my general rule that Batman > No Batman.

The Good German > Before Stonewall --> #972
Before Stonewall is an important documentary, though it has two chief flaws: 1) It presents the narrative of the LGBTQ community in a very middle class white context and 2) It's kinda boring, honestly. The Good German squeaks by with the win.

The Good German < An American Tail: Fievel Goes West --> #977
I've not seen An American Tail: Fievel Goes West since it played in theaters in 1991, but I remember liking it well enough to pick it over the dreary Good German.

The Good German < Leaves of Grass --> #980
The Good German's style is a strong pro but Leaves of Grass counters with actual personality. Edward Norton's dual role work is engaging enough to tip the scales here; Leaves of Grass gets the nod.

The Good German > Starsky & Hutch --> #980
I wanted to like both of these more than I do. Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller are fun to watch together, but Starsky & Hutch feels kinda generic. Going with The Good German. Its devoid of any personality, but its aesthetics are worth watching.

The Good German was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #980/1515