Time Out says
Cut into the corpse of any failed movie, and it’s generally such a complicated mess that pinpointing the exact cause of death requires some serious Quincying. So in the case of The Good German, I delight at the ease: It’s not the excellent cast (especially Clooney, as a foreign correspondent returning to Berlin after WWII), nor the fine, speedy script by Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show), or even Thomas Newman’s schmaltzy score, which works on you regardless. Nope, the culprit is, without a doubt, Steven Soderbergh.
As you may know, Soderbergh has elected to shoot Attanasio’s crisp profanity and romantic intrigue (from Joseph Kanon’s 2001 novel) in the lacquered style of a ’40s studio production, right down to the rear-projected backdrops, old-school wipes and egregious nods to films like Casablanca. The unintended consequence is complete airlessness—that is, when the craft isn’t actively distracting or preening. Did it never occur to Soderbergh how showy this strategy would be? The director now has the unfortunate distinction of starting off the year with a mystery totally devoid of mystery (Bubble) and ending it with a thriller totally devoid of thrills.
When Gus Van Sant tried a similar stunt with his Psycho, slavishly committing to a 40-year-old film grammar, he got slammed, justifiably. The tactic is just way too inside-baseball for the drama to breathe. But let’s indulge: If Soderbergh is condemning wasteful current productions, he should be reminded that rear projection went out for good reason. And if he’s implying that Hollywood’s wartime chestnuts are fake, he should be corrected. At least those films never forgot who was most important: the audience. (Opens Fri 15; Click here for venues.)—Joshua Rothkopf