It's like I've made a habit of taking myself to the art cinema in North Atlanta to see George Clooney in black & white. I'm not complaining--it's compelling cinema--but I do think it's funny.
What was not at all funny was this film, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's Soderbergh's take on the studio films of the 40s, but with all the things directors and writers and actors wished they could do back then but couldn't because of the Hayes Code. Cussing, sex, violence. All the good stuff.
Thanks to my current film diet, I picked up on a lot of noir and neonoir aspects to the film: George Clooney's detective-ish character getting beat up/knocked out no less than three times; the exquisite lighting; Cate Blanchett's face, especially with that dark lipstick; disillusionment with a world turned rotten; place as state of mind/plague. But what I thought was brilliant about this film was the way it took those tropes and wrenched them inside out simply based on the time and setting. Instead of giving us the traditional noir narrative about an America racked by post-war anxiety and corruption, the place which is a state of mind/plague is Berlin. After the war. Racked by anxiety and corruption. And thus, intensely bigger moral issues get tossed into the mix. America as a place was largely untouched by the war (though not untouched as a state of mind, I'll concede). Berlin was devastated. And even this stands as a noir element, background that is way more important than background: the piles of bricks, the staircase that is impassible in one direction, the shocking amount of debris, rubble, destruction, everywhere.
My only complaint was the heavy-handed Casablanca reframing at the end of the film. Yeah, it's cool that even the loud-talking crapface in the row behind me "got" it. But was it necessary?
And in an attempt to end on a more positive note, because I really did like the movie, here's a link to a KCRW podcast with Steven Soderbergh.
The Good German
dir. by Steven Soderbergh, 2006