' Cinema Romantico: The Good German

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Good German

"This will be great for people who liked the original but wished it was terrible." - Tina Fey, several years ago on a possible remake of "Casablanca"

This film, released last year, was director Steven Soderbergh's attempt at an homage to films from the 40's, specifically "Casablanca". (Or is homage the right word? We'll get to that later.) It's in black and white, and was shot on soundstages using rear projection for scenes in cars and employing no "coverage", so on and so forth. Stylistically, I suppose, it's all nice and good but what about the rest?

George Clooney is Jake, a journalist who has come to Berlin right after the war for the famed conference between the leaders of America, Russia and England. But instead he winds up deeply involved in a murder case involving his American driver (Tobey Maguire) and his ex-flame back when he was stationed in Berlin, Lena (Cate Blanchett).

I'll be perfectly blunt, none of this feels real. The characters seem motivated by the fact they all know they're in a 40's homage set in post-war Berlin and that each movement they make must ensure that we reach a particular ending so....but again, I'm coming to that. The acting is flat. Oh, Blanchett's performance isn't flat, per se, but that's all it is - a performance. Her accent's fine, and she poses well, and flips her hair when she needs to, and turns her head away from her ex-lover with vigor, but every single bit of it feels calculated. This isn't a real person. No way, no how. George Clooney traverses Berlin attempting to piece the puzzle together (here we get shades of Joseph Cotton in "The Third Man") but, God, it's uninvolving. I was glad there were so many points he stood there and told us exactly what he had deduced because I felt so detatched while he was sleuthing about that I had trouble keeping my mind focused on his "investigation". Everyone is merely a puppet on Soderbergh's grand stage.

Now for my primary point of ire. It's not an homage to "Casablanca" (and stop reading right now if you don't want to know how this movie ends) because it follows "Casablanca" - not religiously, but we'll say loosely - right down to the end and then go its own horrible way. Partway through there was all this talk about "papers" and getting Lena out of the country and Lena's (apparently) noble husband and I started to realize where this movie might be headed and, sure enough, the end comes and Lena and Jake are standing on the tarmac and the plane's behind them but there's no speech about a "hill of beans". Instead, it turns dark, or shall we say "real". It's an inverted ending of "Casablanca" and it pisses the ever holy hell outta' me. What's the point to this? Are they saying the end to "Casablanca" is all a bunch of Hollywood fluff, even if they're making the movie in the exact style of old Hollywood? Or is it supposed to be a commentary on our current world? Is it saying that we can't have endings like "Casablanca" anymore?

I don't know and I don't care. All I know is you don't paint a moustache on the Sphinx and you don't f--- with "Casablanca". Understand? Certain things are sacred. I like Cate Blanchett but she's not Ingrid Bergman.

And I like George Clooney, too, but he sure as s--- ain't no Humphrey Bogart.

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