More of a style exercise than an actual movie, The Good German is Steven Soderbergh's pet project: shot with vintage cameras, lenses, and lights, and mostly confirming to the style of 1940s film noir. The Good German is a hybrid of The Third Man and Casablanca: imagine if Joseph Cotten were trying to uncover the truth about an old lover (Ingrid Bergman) instead of an old friend (Orson Welles). Clooney is Jake Geismer, a war correspondent sent to Berlin to cover the Potsdam conference in 1945. He gets tangled up in intrigue involving an old lover Lena (Cate Blanchett in full 'haunted femme fatale' mode) and her possibly dead husband, a SS officer who the Americans want and the Russians want to keep from the Americans. In true movie detective fashion, he doggedly uncovers truths which the Powers That Be want buried, friends keep warning him that he'll be the next guy who ends up dead if he doesn't watch himself, he gets beat up repeatedly, even earning a conspicuous bandage like Jake Gittes in Chinatown.
Brenda pointed out that Clooney is very well-suited for this kind of movie. I have started to notice that Clooney has a couple of acting tricks which must have worked great on TV, but are starting to wear a little thin. Whenever he needs to look vulnerable, or melancholy, he has one special face he makes, but he only has one, so it's a little old. Blanchett, in her black hair, moany accent, and dark lipstick, is flat and emotion-free. She spends the whole movie slowly walking from room to room, lying about everything. Where's the flashback which demonstrates why Geismer fell for her in the first place? Tobey Maguire, in a important role which ends early in the movie, plays a overly cocky, overly young, hotheaded corporal who gets in over his head.
The plot was appropriately overly convoluted, but then again, does anyone understand the plot of The Big Sleep or Chinatown? In a fatal error of editing, the pacing slowed in the last third of the movie, just when it should have been picking up speed. Maybe Soderbergh is spreading himself a little thin? he directed, produced, shot, and edited this movie, under his own name and two pseudonyms. (AMC Church Street, Harvard Square)
NOTE: Clooney has now acted in six Soderbergh movies: Out Of Sight, Ocean's 11, Solaris, Ocean's 12, The Good German, and Ocean's 13. (Soderbergh and Clooney have worked together, in other capacities, in countless other projects as well.)