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The Good Concept

December 18, 2006 am31 10:09 am

Poster for the movie Imagine a film. An American writer comes to a post-WWII, four-power-occupied, smoldering capital, looking for an old friend. Soon, lots of smuggling. The writer gets punched a few times. There’s a girl. And a dead man, who might not really be dead. Sneaking between sectors. Sewers. Black and white. Music.

For any fans of Orson Welles or film noire, you must be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the Ferris Wheel. But this is not The Third Man, and the actor is not Joseph Cotten. The girl is not Valli. No Trevor Howard. And absolutely no Orson Welles.

The obvious tribute is called The Good German [official website]. It stars George Clooney, Cate Blanchette, and Tobey Maguire (with smaller roles for Beau Bridges and Leland Orser, among others).

It is not The Third Man. Not even close. But you’ll still want to catch it.
More underneath. There are no spoilers, don’t worry, read on boldly —–>

Third Man plot summary

The sets are good. This is Berlin, 1945, months (weeks) after V-E Day. The B&W is crisp where it should be, grainy at the right moments. The acting is strong (it helps to have a strong supporting cast).

But it’s just good. And as it echoes The Third Man, it should have been more than good. The motivations aren’t very convincing. Several characters don’t seem to have them at all. And the convincing motivations are not sufficiently dark, conflicted and ambiguous. Turning to lighting, the dark is dark and the light is light, but they don’t play with each other.

Clooney is good enough to play a “gee whiz” Joseph Cotton-esque character, and almost does, but he can’t help giving it up with flashes of smarts that he shouldn’t have had. Cate Blanchette handles her role equally well, maybe even a smidge better. Gotta love Tobey Maguire. Smarmy little (fill in the obvious blank). You really will dislike him.

It’s not the acting. The script just wasn’t up to the task. I know, I know, plenty of noir had weak scripts. But this should not have. There’s the narrator problem. The motivation problem. The weak denouement. The plot bits which don’t quite seem plausible. I don’t know. If you like this stuff, you have to see it. But don’t think The Good German will make you forget balloon-selling clowns, zithers, or “the cuckoo clock.”

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