If you think they don’t make ‘em like they used to, well, you’d be wrong. Director Steven Soderbergh and his muse, George Clooney have produced a film that uses the 1942 Michael Curtiz film Casablanca as the standard.
The Good German isn’t a remake, it’s a tribute to the films of the late 1940s that uses exactly the same technology (or lack thereof) as the golden age of Hollywood—the same lenses, the same atmospheric lighting, the same rat-a-tat-tat style of dialogue, the same everything.
Soderbergh nails the look of the period, but the film’s frankness and subject matter would never have been green lit back in the day. Based upon the novel of the same name by Joseph Kanon The Good German is about an American military journalist (Clooney) covering the Potsdam Conference in post-war Berlin. He is drawn into a murder investigation involving his former mistress (Cate Blanchett) and his driver (Tobey McGuire). That could be the plot of any number of film noirs, but Soderbergh adds in elements that would have made studio boss Harry Warner blush.
His idea was to make a retro film with the increased creative freedom that filmmakers enjoy today. That means nudity, bad language and more overt violence. It’s a more realistic take on the story, but the modern sensibility inserted into this authentic looking black and white noir is jarring. Clooney and Blanchett look like golden age movie stars—she seems to be channeling Dietrich—but behave more like Brat Packers than Rat Packers.
The movie as a whole comes off more as an experiment to please film geeks than mainstream entertainment, but in an age where cookie-cutter movies rule I’ll take one of Soderbergh’s strange (and not entirely successful) experiments any day.