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The Good German

Published December 14, 2006 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Warner Bros.
The Good German Poster The Good German
I’m not in love with old movies of the 1940s or any so-called “Golden” age of Hollywood. I think artists continue to improve on the art form and even though there may be a shocking amount of generic crap in the mass consumption age, the good work continues to get better. So I haven’t been desperate to see filmmaking return to old styles, but The Good German is a fascinating experiment and in many ways improves upon the era of filmmaking it recreates.

Movie Review : The Good German

Opening with the old Warner Brothers logo, old timey music and a full frame aspect ratio (the movie screen is actually letterboxed on the sides), Steven Soderbergh has seemingly thought of everything. Driving shots are rear projection, dialogue and acting styles feel like the ‘40s and even lighting and framing holds up.

Then they bring the modern world into it. They never showed sex from behind back then, and there certainly weren’t so many F words. That’s where the experiment starts to show some real value. It’s not just mimicking a classic style, it’s taking the good parts and making it more realistic. People in post-war Germany certainly didn’t follow the Hayes code.

In this WWII story, a military driver in 1945 Germany (Tobey Maguire) wants to get his girlfriend (Cate Blanchett) out of the country before war trials begin. As he begins investigating the request, a journalist (George Clooney) uncovers a deep web of political mysteries that unravel throughout the film.

As with all the classics, I must admit I can’t always follow the political mysteries. Somebody did something to somebody and somebody else was connected to the Nazis and somebody else was more heroic than you thought and somebody else was more evil. I don’t mind though, because the style was so entrancing I just wanted to see these big stars do it old school.

Clooney and Blanchett are fabulous as should be expected. Both look like they could have been glamorous icons of Hollywood’s past. They clearly know their history, both real history and film history, so they do fine.

The real standout is Maguire. Not that we’ve never seen him go dark before. Believe me, I haven’t only seen him in Spider-Man. But he plays an intriguing antihero here, a racist, misogynistic vulgarian. He hits his lovers and offers to pimp her out, and his is the central request of the story.

So, The Good German is still essentially an experiment on adapting old styles of filmmaking to the present. But it’s got enough to it that it’s worth seeing as more than just a test subject.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Warner Bros.

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