On paper, The Good German looked like a promising project : recreating the noirish cinema of classic 1940s studio productions. To mimic the working conditions of these films, Steven Soderbergh shot the film in black and white under a tight budget and even managed to locate a few vintage 1940s camera lens. For the plot, Soderbergh chose Joseph Kanon’s novel set in Berlin immediately after the defeat of Nazi Germany, when both Americans and Soviets tried to poach as many German scientists as possible for their own agendas.
The Good German never made it to the screens in Hong Kong. And when the local region DVD came out a few weeks ago, I knew the film distributors had given up on this film’s chance of securing any decent box office in the territory. After watching the DVD, I can see why. There is very little chemistry between the actors, the direction seems too obviously an imitation of classic noir thrillers and the cinematography is over saturated. The entire film feels too much like a formal exercise on Soderbergh’s part. Some scenes are supposed to be homages to recognized classics like The Third Man and Casablanca, I suppose, but they often just seem like pale imitations, leaving the viewer unsatisfied. I felt the actors were also miscast – Blanchett wasn’t really success at being a German femme fatale, Maguire falls flat as a scheming dirt bag and Clooney can’t replicate the world weariness of say a Humphrey Bogart. A total disappointment.