Arriving to cover the Postdam Conference, whereby Truman, Churchill and Stalin will decide the future of Germany, war correspondent Jake Geismer (George Clooney) is assigned as his driver one Corporal Tully (Tobey Maguire), a black-marketeering opportunist. If Tully has a soft spot – unlikely! – it’s for Lena (Cate Blanchett), with whom Jake once fell in love during a spell in pre-war Berlin. A tricky situation – dangerous too: the discovery of an American corpse in the Soviet zone may not seem to bother the US or Soviet authorities, but for Jake the investigative trail leads towards a dark moral abyss.
If the use of black-and-white images evocative of classics like ‘Casablanca’, ‘The Third Man’ and ‘A Foreign Affair’ is most immediately striking – shot by the director himself, the film looks terrific – more important finally is the bleak account of the consequences of years of unimaginable fear, treachery, hardship, carnage and cruelty. This and the Allies’ overriding concern with negotiating the balance of political, economic and military power in a newly nuclear world, Paul Attanasio’s sometimes overly complex script suggests, mean that the old values simply no longer pertain.
A grim conclusion, and Soderbergh never shies away from the corrosive horror of the tale; it does mean, however, that the film lacks characters who might engage our sympathies; Blanchett, particularly, doing a Mitteleuropeanische femme fatale familiar from movies rather than life, makes for some dramatic flatness. Still, why emphasise flaws in a film of such overall ambition and expertise?
Cast and crew