In "The Good German," George Clooney plays Jake, a war correspondent and former Berlin AP bureau chief, now a two- fisted New Republic columnist. He arrives in the scrap of ruin that is Berlin ostensibly to cover the Potsdam Conference, at which conquered Europe will be carved up by the Allied powers, but really to find his old squeeze, a stringer who worked for him before the war. Imagine his surprise when it turns out that the woman, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), has gone from the world's second oldest profession to its first and is the kept gal of his driver, a snippy conniver named Tully, played in whiny singsong by Tobey Maguire.
Hard as that coupling is to believe, it's soon enough moot when the kid is killed, seemingly at the Potsdam estate, by a Russian .32 in the back; Jake thinks it has to do with Lena's husband, who may or may not be dead and who was the protege of a German scientist in the V-2 program, currently being hunted by both the Americans and the Russians for his ballistic missile know-how.
Steven Soderbergh's idea was to take a recent thriller set in the 1940s and make it as a '40s picture. Not sort of like a '40s picture, not a '40s revised or retro, or a '40s improved or revisited, but an actual1940s picture, to the last atom, to every phony trope and awkwardness.
But the one thing about old movies Soderbergh fails to replicate is their crackle. Of "The Good German," it can be said that the operation was a brilliant success, even if the patient is not merely dead but most sincerely dead.
The movie, in other words, lies there as if on a slab in a morgue, while you admire the corpse for its beauty. And it is beautiful, in its high-end craft, its stubborn insistence on re-creating a lost cinematic look and feel, and in following that impulse to its own self-destructive end.
-- Stephen Hunter (Dec. 22, 2006)
Contains nudity, sexual content, profanity and violence.