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A small gem of a film in black and white...
on 9 February 2013
How do you select a movie for viewing? Do you have a favorite director? A favorite actor? A favorite genre?
Recently a friend recommended the movie CHARLOTTE GRAY. When I ordered it, I noticed another "similar" movie THE GOOD GERMAN. I'm a big fan of Cate Blanchett's so this was a no-brainer decision: I ordered both movies. CHARLOTTE was a good movie...with Blanchett in the title role and with the magnificent Michael Gambon and the nice British actor who played Hannity in the PBS production of THE 39 STEPS...but THE GOOD GERMAN was better! Here's the plot synopsis from the subscription service:
A U.S. Army war correspondent is drawn into a deadly mystery in post-war Berlin as he seeks out his wartime mistress in this adaptation of author Joseph Kanon's best-selling novel. The war is over, and Jake Geismar (George Clooney) is an American journalist assigned the task of covering the peace in Berlin -- but he was once lovers with a mysterious woman named Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett). Lena is a lady with many secrets to hide, however, and now that the fighting has ceased, she has every intention of burying her sins and escaping her dark past. As Jake searches for Lena in war-torn Berlin with the assistance of American Army motor pool driver Tully (Tobey Maguire), the complex web of deceit woven by the desperate woman soon leads all three into the black market, which could prove either the ticket to Lena's ultimate escape or the downfall of both her and her pursuers.
What a weak synopsis. Oh, the film starred Clooney, Blanchett, and Maguire. And the setting and time period is mentioned correctly as post-war Berlin. But the plot is so much more interesting and multi-layered than hunting for an old wartime lover! And it's filmed in black and white with all the costume and look of a 1945 old movie. The soundtrack is really awesome with its spikes of impending danger! (I learned later that director Steven Soderbergh...under the pseudonym Peter Andrews...used 1940s era lenses, sound-recording techniques, and a decidedly less-mobile camera for this spectacular effect.)
The story is very thrilling with lots of intrigue. George Clooney is perfectly cast as Jake Geisner, an American journalist in Berlin to cover the Potsdam summit. A young Tobey Maguire, as the Army driver assigned to transport Geisner, stole the first part of the movie playing a very manipulative soldier pimping for certain desperate German women and selling information to the Russians about them. Cate Blanchett is one of those desperate German women: she mysteriously and slightly underplays the part but is brilliant as usual.
And hopefully, you can determine who is the good German? The question nags me a bit. I think I know though.
I plan to read Joseph Kanon's 2001 novel of the same name soon. Kanon won a 1988 Edgar for best first mystery for LOS ALAMOS. I may have to go back and read his other books, too: THE PRODIGAL SPY (1998), ALIBI (2005) which won Hammett Prize, and STARDUST (2009).