An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

        “The Good German” is a grand salute to “Casablanca” and the movies of World War II. Steven Soderbergh has filmed this one in black and white on Hollywood studio back lots, not locations, with boom, not body mikes, and without the zoom that had not yet been invented in 1945. You will think a lot about Bogart and Bergman and probably smile nostalgically when Cate Blanchett, wearing a Bergman fedora, moves toward the plane on the runway in the final scene. You may, or may not, know that “Casblanca” was filmed on such a tight budget – as a “B” film – that the plane was just a wooden mockup of the front of itself. Standing about five feet tall, it was serviced in the film by midgets so the whole thing would look in proportion. The plane in “The Good German” is full sized, and so are the emotions.

        It is often said that movie stars aren’t what they used to be. Often true, but not here. Cate Blanchett and George Clooney fairly exude star quality – that sure mystery and presence that glows from intelligent beings. Cate Blanchett also has the chameleon ability to become her character so thoroughly that we forget who she is – except for that commanding presence that is her essence. Here are two marvelous actors prowling through the ruins of post war Berlin, through dark streets and abandoned houses, he searching for her, she trying to elude him. The why of that is the story.

        Based on Joseph Kanon’s novel, the movie is set in the summer of ’45 between V-E and V-J day. Jake Geismer (George Clooney) is an American war correspondent who has returned to Berlin to find his former lover Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) and to cover the Potsdam Conference (marvelous clips included). Lena is a beautiful Berliner who is weighed down by secrets. Loving her still, Jake plows into the middle of Lena’s world which brings them both to the central focus of the film – the determination of the Americans to secure for themselves the best scientific minds in Berlin. So we have Russians and Americans, already in fierce opposition over brainpower needed for their own weapons programs. As an American general says, “The Potsdam Peace Conference is about the future; the Russians get Poland and we get the brains.”

        In an always complicated equation, Lena loves two men just as Bergman did - her husband and her lover. Lena’s expression is deeply sad. Nothing, she knows, will ever erase her experience. Jake is the American determined to fix and to help. The suspense is terrific, the score apt. If the movie is a tribute to “Casablanca” and its era, we owe our own applause to Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and a good supporting cast for pulling it off with such style. And we can be grateful to be reminded of the old-fashioned quality that used to inform the choices people made: loyalty.


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