Good German (The)
R4 - Australia - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Chrisana Love (23rd July 2007).
The Film

Berlin, 1945. The war is over and the Americans are now in Germany trying to find Nazis to bring to trial. Journalist Jake Geismer (George Clooney) arrives to cover the Potsdam conference (with an open desire to track down ex-lover Lena, (Cate Blanchett)). When the body of Patrick (Tobey Maguire), his assigned driver washes up in Potsdam, Jake may be the only person who wants to solve the crime, despite discovering he was Lena's new lover. But in typical noir style, everyone has secrets and the truth is a little more difficult to grasp than Jake imagines.
Not being the world's biggest fan of Steven Soderbergh, I was preparing to be mildly offended by this. I love post war films (in particular anything from RKO) and I'm one of the few who agree "Citizen Kane" (1941) actually deserves it's number one spot from the American National Board of Review. I have to say they mostly nailed the noir, at least visually, although it most definitely won't be up there with "The Big Sleep" (1946) and others of its ilk. It was a nice homage to the period. Noir is a difficult thing to pull off these days, especially if you are going to go the whole way with the look, and I haven't seen anything since "The Man Who Wasn't There" (2001) that was this effective (although the Coen brothers did do a better job). I would have liked a few "scratches on the print", the cinematography (in all it's deep focus glory, why oh why do more people not use deep focus! Bring back the deep focus!) is beautiful, if not a little too shiny. The soundtrack is also nicely evocative of the period, the script worked reasonably efficiently too, full of brooding menace, conspiracy, every character had something to hide. But while it was entertaining, it was not without its faults. The "Casablanca" (1942) ending was a little obvious and some of the editing (side swipes, irises) I could have done without. Sure they are "of the time", but now they just look hammy. The story fails too in its inability to really hammer home the moral uncertainties of war survivors/victims (which it looks like it was attempting). With morally grey areas being an absolute necessity in this genre, it was sorely missed. And a plot based around Jake's lust for the troubled Lena was a little thin. Basically, it's style over substance. For those of us who love the look, it's a visual orgasm, but what happened to the raw humour so embedded in hard boiled prose? I think Soderbergh was taking it all a little too seriously; it just came across as too self conscious.
There's a lot I could say about Cate's performance which you've all no doubt already heard. I have a lot of respect for George Clooney, but it's always an odd feeling watching the female actor walk all over her male "star" (something which happens all too frequently). Clooney was a good choice for the Bogart-esque lead, but both he and Toby Maguire were always going to look a little flaccid next to Blanchett as the battle scarred, Lena (resembling Marlene Dietrich at her best). To be honest, with the dark hair and eyes and dressed in the best in 40's satin and fur she looked like she floated out of a wet dream...

Video

Presented in a full screen ratio of 1.33:1 this transfer presents the film in its unmated form. When screened theatrically it was set at a ratio of 1.66:1 (within a 1.85:1 frame, black bars were placed left and right to achieve the 1.66:1 ratio). Films of that era were often displayed in that ratio and such is the point of this exercise that the director also screened the film that way. However what we get here is not the theatrical ratio but rather an open-matte full screen image giving us more from the top and bottom of the frame. It's unclear if this is director approved but this ratio was also utilized in the 1940's. It would have been beneficial for Soderbergh to have at least included an introduction to this film but instead we are kind of in the dark on this ratio.
Aside from that the image is splendid, the black and white image is generally sharp, although at times the harsh lighting scheme tends to soften the image up and some detail is lost in the whiter shades. The contrast is balanced well with grey levels appearing natural and whites bright with deep and bold black levels. I found no evidence of compression related problems, no dirt or grain. Overall it's a fairly solid transfer.

Audio

A single English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is included, this isn't an active surround mix in fact it's very minimalist for a studio film and effectively resembles a 1940's film in it's sound design. Although to make it more authentic it would have been cool had Warner Brothers also created a mono mix, in any case this 5.1 track presents dialogue cleanly and without distortion. The majority of the sound us directed at the front with little activity in the surround channels other than the occasional ambient sound. The film's score does use the space quite well and is never too overbearing, overall it's a fine track that does the job but won't likely put your sound system through any test.
Optional subtitles are also included in Arabic, English, English for the hearing impaired and Hebrew.

Extras

None!

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A Audio: A- Extras: F Overall: D+

 


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