Thursday, April 19, 2012


(December 2006, U.S.)

First of all, take a good long look at the movie poster for THE GOOD GERMAN.

Now take a look at this...

Can you say HOMAGE with a great big capital 'H'??

I have to give Steven Soderbergh the just credit he deserves in that he's one of the most diversified film directors of our time. From low budget independents like SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE (1989), to crime films like OUT OF SIGHT (1998) and OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2001), to the science fiction remake of SOLARIS (2002), it seems he's managed to create an impressive variety of stories to tell. THE GOOD GERMAN is shot in black-and-white and is designed to imitate the appearance of film noir from the 1940s, although it also includes material – such as sex scenes and profanity – that would have been prohibited by the Production Code of the time. Set in Berlin following the Allied victory over the Nazis, it begins as a murder mystery, but weaves in elements involving the American postwar employment of Nazi rocket scientists in operation. The film's title alludes to the notion of "a good German", one who ostensibly was not to blame for allowing Adolf Hitler to persecute the Jews and others, and who did not see the Holocaust as it occurred before his or her eyes. In addition, the title is an allusion to the phrase common among soldiers of the Allied Powers during the invasion of Europe after D-Day, that "The only good German is a dead German" - and the consequences of this death are the seed for all that follows in the story of the film. Thematically, it centers on the German post war guilt, and whether it is possible to survive the atrocities while being unaware of and not complicit in them.

George Clooney as Jacob Geismar, an American war correspondent, is far from Humphrey Bogart's character in CASABLANCA (1942). As a matter of fact, Jacob is hardly the tough guy at all. It can almost become irritating to watch this guy repeatedly get his ass kicked so many times, particularly by a shrimp of a soldier like the character Tobey Maguire plays. Jacob, though, serves as not only our protaganist in solving the murder mystery of this film, but his love interest for Lena Brandt (played wonderfully by Cate Blanchett), a German Jew, is also key to the story. The two of them have a history, but as irony would have it, he and the rest of the American and Russian military forces are searching in vain for her husband (presumed dead), Emil Brandt, a former SS officer and Chief Production Engineer of the V-2 rocket, which is what will clearly define the world's future in this post-war environment. Lena is a tormented character because it's very clear from the beginning that she's not only had to struggle (as a prostitute) to survive but is also running away from her wartime sins which she also considered necessary for her survival at the time. While her loyalty to her husband (who's actually alive and in hiding) is key, she's ultimately a woman who's determined to get out of Germany, with or without her husband or Jacob. Her final exit from Berlin is hardly an escape, but rather an intruiging departure from not only a war torn country, but her sins of handing over Jews to the Nazis, as well, all in the name of her survival. The final scene at the airport, with the dreary fog that can only truly be expressed and appreciated in glorious black and white, is the greatest homage to CASABLANCA I've seen on film since Woody Allen did it in PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM (1972).

Steven Soderbergh clearly (and proudly) pays great homage here to films from the Classical Hollywood studio-era. It's unfortunate, though, that most modern multiplex audiences of today have neither the patience or the appreciation to spend some time with a film such as this, which serves to remind us of not only the way films used to be (because they were BETTER!), but of the way films CAN STILL BE if they're treated just a bit more like art and not quick opening weekend grosses. While critics were generall positive with THE GOOD GERMAN, it don't think it got much of a wide release. I managed to see it on screen at The Paris Theatre in New York City, one of the few single screen theaters that remain in the city, and as it turned out, the ONLY theater that was screening the film at the time.

Here's looking at you, kids!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Lena Brandt: "I'm a Nazi myself! Did you know that? It's true! Heil Hitler!"
Jacob Geismar: "You're not a Nazi!"
Lena: "No, not a Nazi, none of us, just something to join like a sport club! How could you fuck someone for all those years and not know them?"
Jacob: "Stom it!"
Lena: "Did you ever FUCK a Nazi?"
Jacob: "Cut it out!"
Lena: "How about a Jew?"
Jacob: "Why won't you let me help you?"
Lena: "A Nazi AND a Jew both, better yet!"
Jacob: "You did nothing wrong!"

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