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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

January 12, 2007
To me, Steven Soderbergh has always come across as the next Spielberg. Unfortunately for him, the current Spielberg is still making films, and they're good films, too. So, I imagine, in an attempt to differentiate himself from the reigning king of mainstream cinema, Soderbergh makes little forays into experimental film country, trying to gain the reputation of an artist while the Ocean's 11 films bring in the money. Some of these smaller projects succeed in raising the bar (Good Night, and Good Luck, Out of Sight, and Solaris) and provide him with a nice cushy layer of respectability that lies underneath the more sensational blockbusters like Traffic and Erin Brockovitch. Last year, Soderbergh upped the ante by releasing the plain and unadorned Bubble, which featured only amateur actors. It was a risky experiment that removed all aspects of a film's glamour to see if it could succeed with no polish, and Bubble garnered a fair amount of buzz for its pains.

The Good German stands out in stark contrast - an exercise in over-styling. Soderbergh attempts to recreate classic Hollywood by using archaic cameras, lighting, and sound techniques, not to mention old familiar devices such as the Brooding Voiceover and the Shake the Woman by the Shoulders. And not only does it feature professional actors, it features Big Deal professional actors - George Clooney, Tobey Maguire, and Cate Blanchett. Actual newsreel footage from the 1940s, therefore, fits right in and is often difficult to distinguish from the story.

There are some striking disjoins, though, that a classic-film lover will find jarring. The most obvious is, of course, the fact that no character in a film under the thumb of the Production Code's "moral" restraints would ever throw around the F-word, much less actually go ahead and proceed with F-word-ing on screen. Clearly, this is an intentional departure from convention that strives to show us what an unrestricted classic Hollywood film would have been like. However, The Good German's style is a little more dated than it needs to be, since feature films from the mid-1940s (like Double Indemnity or Mildred Pierce) were much crisper and more softly lit. Soderbergh's film instead resembles a film from the 1930s, when Marlene Dietrich, whom Blanchett obviously aspires to emulate, was hitting her stride. In effect, we have a film that looks pre-World War II but portrays post-World War II tension in Europe, and the finished product feels a little odd.

That's what the movie's about, by the way. Confusion, betrayal, and disruption in a war-torn Berlin. And as the characters stagger around rubble, whip out revolvers, and dodge each other's punches, our amazement at how, well, neat this film looks is quickly overshadowed by the fact that none of us know what in the Sam Dell is going on. Something about Nazis, I think, and later on, some stuff with a concentration camp. There's prostitutes and the Secret Police and talk of the atom bomb, and at some point someone says something that ties it all together, but at that moment, you're too busy asking your friend next to you if they're totally lost too and if maybe you should have brushed up on your World War II Reconstruction history before you bought tickets.

Brilliant performances all around and the sheer originality of it all (well, original for 2006 anyway) makes The Good German worth watching, but don't get too worked up about the plot. Every climax disappoints, and the weak finale isn't made any stronger by the fact that it is directly ripped off from Casablanca. I would love to say that my beloved Soderbergh purposefully made things so bewildering so that we could fully understand how desperately impermanent and frustrating life was for everybody in that time and place. I'm more willing to bet, however, that it took so much effort to reproduce this homage to the old days that the cohesiveness of the story just sort of got overlooked.

Final note: I recommend watching Thank You for Smoking directly after this, just so you can negate the effect of a movie that again makes smoking look cool. After all, kids, a smoking poverty-stricken leggy prostitute with seamed stockings who "just does what she has to in order to survive" may have looked good in 1945, but in 2006, she's just a poor German whore with stained teeth. (I printed up some t-shirts with that slogan on it. Let me know if anybody wants one.)

SEE ALSO: thegoodgerman.warnerbros.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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