Pretty Good German

The technical brilliance of Soderbergh’s latest, as you probably know a recreation of studio techniques–and some of the attitude/tone–from ’40s pictures, has been given lots of press, and deservedly so. The film’s a glorious collage of shadows and light, line and angle and shape. There are all these lovely sights: background lighting so fiercely overdeveloped that Clooney and Blanchett seem to lose their boundaries, fading into a glow; Blanchett running down a circular stairwell, top wall gone to reveal lovely artificial moonlit clouds and the silhouette of Clooney (in iconic army cap).

And you could watch it as a workshop in photography (all shot by Soderbergh). But I liked other elements as much, even more:

–Tobey Maguire rips it up as an apple-cheeked vicious American, all faux-innocence and hyper-violent brutality that only serves to underscore how very little his character actually understands.

–All the minor characters are astounding, perfect condensed complex portraits of Hannah, who loves ham sandwiches–played by Calamity Jane, for god’s sake (Robyn Weigert–I didn’t even recognize her); Bernie (Leland Orser), an attorney charged with prosecuting war crimes; Colonel Muller (Beau Bridges), in charge of maintaining the appearance of peace; and so on. There’s barely an extra who isn’t perfect.

–And Paul Attanasio’s script is full of rippin’ snarlin’ dialogue, far nastier (and more profane) than most ’40s flicks, at times coming close to BillyWilderwonderful…. and letting his arcane maze of a plot stand without lots of silly expository reveal.

Alas, all said, I was less pleased with the two leads, who are stuck negotiating characters who seem more cardboard than complex, echoing but not really revising or even recreating the best of the flicks they’re emulating. I like Blanchett and Clooney… but their sexual tension seemed slack, and their connection to the shady doings all around seemed less realized in their (many) close-ups.

Still, recommended. A glorious film to watch, and often quite fun.

7 thoughts on “Pretty Good German

  1. we watched it last night and i liked it too–especially given the timeliness of pointing out that there was a lot of corruption involved in post-war berlin and in the smoothing over of nazi pasts for national gain: ooh, that courageous soderbergh! i bet he’s going to expose watergate next!

    but you have to like any movie in which tobey maguire kicks clooney’s ass, without radioactive spiders involved. i actually thought blanchett was fine; it is clooney who seems to give the exact same performance in every movie. and yes, the cinematography is spectacular. was this nominated for any technical oscars?

  2. I saw it in the theatre and liked it; tried to watch it again on dvd . . . not so much. There is a lot of craft on view and some fine sequences; it’s photography and art direction are very good. Many of the supporting actors do some really nice work.

  3. Good Shepherd: I really liked the actors – though not always their acting. The way every single character brazenly displayed their simplistic “weakness”: diabetes for deNiro, cancer for Baldwin, homosexuality for Gambon, Edward Jr.’s fear… yeah yeah yeah – we get it.

    And I havent seen such a waste of actors since Stone’s JFK. Timothy Hutton for ten seconds? Double that for Pesci? Come on. Pesci was actually great in his tiny role.

    I also noticed how clean everything looked. If this had been filmed in the 70s it would have looked gritty, dirty, smoky. Garbage. You know when the platform of the London Underground where people are hiding from the blitzkrieg doesn’t have a spot of trash on it, that someone with OCD was a little too much in charge of set decoration.

    It was downright creepy the way Matt Damon’s character (or his make-up artist) refused to age from the years 1935 to 1961.

    I liked how closely certain parts of the movie seemed to recall Coppola’s Godfather movies and – even more so – the Conversation. But Damon’s moodiness/blankness was no match for Hackman’s sadness in the Conversation, not that I don’t think it was so much the lack of talent in Matt Damon – I think he’s a quite good actor. I’m afraid it may have come down to DeNiro’s direction. Arnab’s one word review isn’t off base. Still, I wathced it all in a single sitting, which is more than I can say for a lot of “better” movies.

    The weirdness of his son becoming an agent and unwittingly selling out the Bay of Pigs secret took the whole thing into ludicrous territory.

    This can’t compare to things like the BBC productions of “The Perfect Spy” or Coppola at his best, and that’s too bad. I wanted to like this much more than I did.

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