The Good German

The post-WW2 allegory highlights some questionable decisions, says Eamonn Kiernan

The Good German opens at the Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast on Friday 9 March

I was intrigued when Oscar-winning Traffic director Steven Soderbergh wanted to make a 1940s noir.

What is unusual is that he wanted to make The Good German so stylistically accurate that the film was to be shot in black and white, but more importantly the only equipment used would be that which was available at the time.

The Good German begins in Berlin, July 1945. Two months since the Nazi capitulation and before the atomic bomb was deployed against the Japanese.

'Captain' Jake Geismer (George Clooney), a military war correspondent, has been assigned to cover the Potsdam Conference.

The victorious leaders Stalin, Churchill and Truman will meet there to carve the world into political spheres of influence.

The real reason Geismer has taken the Berlin assignment is to track down Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), a woman he had a passionate affair with in Berlin, before the outbreak of war.

Geismer discovers that his motor pool driver Private Tully (Tobey Maguire) is now not only Lena's lover, but is her pimp and a major black-marketeer to boot.

Tully turns up dead after discovering that both the Americans and the Russians are eagerly looking for Lena's SS officer husband. We wonder why, as Lena tells Tully that her husband is dead and the Soviets have seen his death certificate.

The Good German's visceral black and white imagery allows footage from the 1940s to be used, to magnificent effect.

From the opening bars of the title music, 'The Good German' drags you into the story. It feels as if you are in the hell-hole that is post-war Berlin. You can almost taste the brick-dust from Berlin's destroyed buildings lodging in your throat.

The grittiness spills over into the violence portrayed in the film. When Geismer is hit, he stays hit.

The after-effects of violence are portrayed graphically and realistically. Bruises and swellings show, blood flows and isn't the usual Hollywood trickle from the side of the mouth - it's dark, there's a lot of it, it's viscous and it looks like it hurts like hell.

At one point a gunshot smacks into the branch of a tree just above Geismer's head. He'd been looking at something on the ground and his startled reaction is enough to make you choke on your popcorn. But then Geismer is a journalist, he's not Indiana Jones.

The performances are, as usual in Soderbergh's movies, beyond reproach. Clooney is superb as the hard-bitten reporter, unravelling a multi-layered conspiracy to expose the unsavoury truth.

Blanchett steals the show. With magisterial form, the moral fluidity her character adopts is fearsomely portrayed. Even the squeaky-clean Maguire, despite his baby-face, is convincingly chilling as the reprehensible Tully.

American critics despised this movie. That is possibly because Americans like to feel that in World War II they had at least one war, unlike Vietnam and the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, where morally they took the higher ground.

The Good German shows that in the immediate aftermath of WWII's European Campaign, questionable decisions were taken by the Americans - which had a profoundly negative global effect for decades to come.

It also throws up the question of how America will deal with managing the peace which will inevitably follow from their current campaigns in the Middle East.

When watching The Good German, think The Third Man meets Casablanca with a pinch of LA Confidential thrown in for good measure.

It's a film that satisfies as an entertaining detective yarn on one level and as a complex morality tale on another.

Stylistically, and that's always been a watchword of film noir, it achieves its goal to be an honest homage to an age long gone in cinema.

Incidentally, it also has the best non-Oscar nominated performances from last year. When will the Academy learn?

The Good German opens at the Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast on Friday 9 March

QFT Online