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The Good GermanThe Good German on DVD

Set just after World War II, when many people may have thought "the only good German was a dead one", Steven Soderbergh's homage to film noir is an interesting whodunit in that grand tradition. And, as it should, it keeps us from figuring out what exactly was "dun" for quite a while.

George Clooney is a U.S. war correspondent returning to Berlin shortly after Germany's surrender. He had spent years there in supposedly happier times, as a correspondent for a wire service, and he appears to be there this time to cover the upcoming Nuremberg trials. He certainly seems to have enough free time to kill in the meantime, running around trying to solve the mystery in which he finds himself embroiled.

Tobey Maguire is Patrick Tully, his driver, assigned to him for this particular visit – but by whom, and why him and why now? And just as the movie is full of layers, like an onion is, there's a lot more to Maguire's character than meets the eye.

Ditto for Cate Blanchett, who used to work for (and "under") Jake Geismer (Clooney). Her character, Lena Brandt, appears to be surviving by whoring herself out, but there's a lot more to her than that as well. Who, for instance, was her dead husband, why are the American and the Soviets looking for him – and is he even dead?

There's murder afoot, and espionage and unlikely alliances, in a story that appears to try emulating Casablanca in its look and feel, though without that classic's humor and humanity.

But it's neat to see someone making one of those "they don’t make movies like this anymore" movies, even with its warts – which include far too much profanity and violence to really hearken back to the "golden age of black and white."

And we find it hard to care for any of the characters, all of whom have baggage that's revealed though the plot line and which, rather than making us care more for them, makes us care less.

Still, the performances by Clooney, Blanchett and the supporting cast are good, the look is terrifically atmospheric and the black and white picture really does look as if it's from that era.  And there appear to be quite a few shots that pay direct homage to Michael Curtiz' Casablanca, and how can that be a bad thing?

Unfortunately, Maguire doesn't seem to have the gravitas of his co-stars and is a weak link in the performance chain. Fortunately, he doesn't stick around long….

As mentioned, despite the film not drawing us enough into the action or the characters, it looks great. Director Soderbergh and his crew capture the era (movie and historical) very well, and by using black and white they could incorporate some vintage footage to add scale and perspective to the proceedings.

We're a little confused by the full frame (1.33:1, not 16x9 TV compatible) presentation. We have no problem will full frame if that's the way the movie was shot (all movies were shot that way until about 50 years ago), but here we can't really tell. The package says it's the original aspect ratio of the theatrical presentation, yet there's a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie telling us that it has been "reformatted" to fit our screen. So which is it?

It doesn't seem as if we're missing anything that might have been cropped from the sides of the picture, though of course it's impossible to tell since we didn't have a widescreen version (that may not exist) with which to compare it.

The black and white picture quality is very good, sharp and clean (though not so sharp as to make it look too "state of the art") and with good contrast. Audio is Dolby Digital surround, though the surround is used sparingly. But, as much as we like a good surround soundtrack, we'd have liked mono here to keep with the "old time movie" feel.

Extras include a bunch of trailers that start automatically when you play the disc.

The Good German, from Warner Home Entertainment
108 min. Black and white full frame video (1.33:10, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire
produced by Ben Cosgrove, Gregory Jacobs
written by Paul Attansio, directed by Steven Soderbergh


Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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