It’s up to A-list directors to maintain B-movie traditions — that’s the implication of Stephen Soderbergh’s much-publicized decision to shoot The Good German in the style of a Michael Curtiz work-for-hire, complete with vintage camera lenses and an assembly-line production schedule. Plot-wise, though, Paul Attanasio’s adaptation of Joseph Kanon’s book is straight outta Third Man land: George Clooney, who can fill a suit and take a beating, plays Jake (as in, “forget it, Jake”) Geismar, the morally upright American writer (here, a war correspondent) arriving in a rubble-reduced, black market-overrun postwar capital of Old Europe (here, Berlin), and charging uncomprehendingly into the murky affairs of an indifferent, dark-lipped old-world fatale (Cate Blanchett as a sulky old flame) and a man thought, officially at least, to be dead.
Soderbergh, working as his own D.P., is a pleasurably adroit mimic, mismatching stock establishing shots with rear-projected and soundstage scenes. (There’s even a Casablanca quotation sure to inspire self-satisfied snorts of recognition.) But in this year of Inside Man, Miami Vice, and The Departed, the case for auteurs as makers of commercially palatable, artistically meritorious story- and star-driven genre pictures hardly needs to be restated this self-consciously. Good German’s real resonance is less as stylistic echo than ideological corrective, hitching the rising strings of Thomas Newman’s score to a strain of political cynicism that 40s Hollywood directors had to sneak past studio heads. For that, credit Kanon’s source novel, which, like his surprisingly still-unfilmed first book Los Alamos, maps the bloodstains present on the hands of the nuclear arms race from the moment of its birth.
Opens December 15