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.