Release: Dec. 8
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Oscar Alums: Steven Soderbergh (director, “Traffic”), Cate Blanchett (supporting actress, “The Aviator”), George Clooney (supporting actor, “Syriana”)
At a glance, “The Good German” may look more like a curiosity than a contender. The post-World War II-set thriller is shot not just in black-and-white, but in ’40s style, even using vintage lenses to get the authentic period feel. The acting is in the external style of the time, not today’s more method approach. It was shot on back lots, not on location. Even some of the backgrounds are taken from newsreel and archival footage.
But Warners insists it is not a mere exercise in nostalgia. With Steven Soderbergh directing George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire, the project’s star power alone suggests it should be taken seriously as a kudo contender.
Paul Attanasio’s adaptation of Joseph Kanon’s novel tells a 1940s story, but does so with contemporary permissiveness, depicting profanity, sex and violence onscreen, so the filmmaking isn’t entirely retro. Clooney plays an American journalist who returns to Berlin looking for his former lover (Blanchett), but finds her not to be the woman he remembers. Think Bogie, maybe William Holden, opposite Marlene Dietrich.
Soderbergh has a history of getting first-rate performances from his leading ladies, including Jennifer Lopez and Julia Roberts. Blanchett, already at the top of her game as an actress, delivers a knockout perf as the secretive but seductive war survivor — flawless German accent included. Maguire departs from his nice-guy Peter Parker persona to play an amoral black marketeer.
Those who’ve admired Cloo- ney for his ability to disappear into roles in “Syriana” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” may be frustrated to find him in star mode. His own persona is stronger than the character — in keeping with the period style.
Clooney and Soderbergh have a track record of working together. However, their commercial collaborations, such as “Out of Sight” and the “Ocean’s Eleven” films, have overshadowed their more artistically ambitious films, such as “Solaris.” “The Good German” belongs to the latter category.
The biggest kudo wild card for this film is Soderbergh himself. He pushes the film medium in ways few others will, but it remains to be seen whether this particular experiment will excite the public or awards voters.
Beyond the stars, script and direction, pic’s retro technical accomplishments could lure nods in the below-the-line categories. Cinematography by Soderbergh (working under pseudonym Peter Andrews), Philip Messina’s production design and Thomas Newman’s score are strong points.