Sunday, July 15, 2007

Good German: Bad Movie

I picked up The Good German from Video Americain because I had seen a promo wherein George Clooney said it was basically an homage to WWII/post-WWII international intrigue thrillers like The Third Man and, to a lesser extent Casablanca (for the airport-takeoff-in-the-rain finale). Comparing a film to The Third Man - heck, even attempting to scale the heights of a film like The Third Man - is a tall order for anybody, even a director of Steven Sonderberg's talents. I love The Third Man; anything referencing it naturally piques my interest. But I'm here to retort to George and Steven that, as Joey Ramone once sang, You Don't Come Close.

For The Good German is all (borrowed) style - black and white film stock computer-tweaked to look old, vintage newsreel footage, old school Forties Hollywood wipes and transitions - and no substance. The Third Man had both because it was directed by a master in Carol Reed (sorry Sonderberg, but as far as standing next to Reed, well, to quote another song, You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby) based on a novel by another master Graham Greene. Morever, Third Man had Orson Welles as Harry Line, who added the great Swiss Cuckoo Clock line before attempting to off Joseph Cotton: "Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." No line in The Good German comes close to that cleverness; there's sound and there's fury, but it signifies nothing. Especially the ending. One of the lamest and most underwhelming in history. Gee, what could a German woman's dark secret be during WWII? Maybe that she has a Pandora's Box that if opened will destroy the world in a nuclear holocaust as in Kiss Me Deadly? No? Could it be that she slept with Nazis and betrayed her fellow Jews to survive? Ah yes, that's it and what a twist it is - so bold, so original! Didn't see that coming. (Actually, I think only George Clooney didn't see that one coming, as he looks devastated in the final scene when Blanchett's Lena Brandt character confesses her shameful secret.)

Admittedly, Sonderberg adds the only positive notes to this production because even though all his stylistic flourishes are borrowed, they still acknowledge The Third Man, be it in camera angles, the lighting of deserted Berlin streets at night or, most prevalently, all those narrow corridor, doorway and alleys shots he gives us.

But the script is hackneyed beyond belief. The only line I liked was when a zaftig fraulein streetwalker pats her ass and laconically beckons to Clooney, "Come on and fuck me, Dutch" with all the enthusiasm of a houseplant. And The Third Man had top-notch acting across the board. Clooney and Kate Blanchett hold up their end admirably - especially Blanchette, who despite having a non-glamourous puss always manages to come off as sexy and desirable (e.g., Notes froma Scandal), but Toby Maguire is hopelessly miscast and just doesn't fit into the boots he's asked to fill (though I did like his robotic doggystyle schtupping of Ms. Blanchette in one early scene). And bushy-browed Beau Bridges? Put that cow out to pasture! Clooney, for his part, seems insistant on playing the anti-hero by repeatedly getting the shit kicked out of him - when he's not downing shots of Scotch, he's being pounded by 2x4's, pistol whipped, smashed over the head with chairs or knocked on the noggin by rifle butts. In fact, the Clooney beat-down is so consistent it borders on the ridiculous.

I expected far more from Sonderberg and Clooney. I got instead a good idea poorly executed. If you want good international intrique with smart writing and great acting, your time and money would be better spent checking out The Third Man, Casablanca, or Pepe la Moko.


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