December 15, 2006


Courting the Lost World of ‘Casablanca' (NICOLAS RAPOLD, December 15, 2006, NY Sun)

Steven Soderbergh, the "perpetual wunderkind," is always up to something. News of the director's exploits trickles in year after year: He's firing up a 1960s Rat Pack heist caper with George Clooney! He's assembled Michelangelo Antonioni and Wong Karwai to make erotic short films! He's remaking a science fiction parable by Andrei Tarkovsky! He's revolutionizing distribution by releasing "Bubble" to theaters and DVD simultaneously!

The director's latest endeavor, "The Good German," is another experiment. Set in the shadow-strafed palimpsest of postwar Berlin, it's a tale of deceit and doomed romance that wants to live and breathe the 1940s. Mr. Soderbergh interprets the term "period movie"to include the filmmaking itself, using black-andwhite, a single camera for each shot instead of several, and even a constrained selection of vintage lenses. [...]

Mr. Soderbergh has created a peculiarly arid film, coolly snuffing out the urge to entertain that animated even lowly classic studio product. His conundrum seems to be that of an ardent cinephile and technician. He wants to recreate a lost moment of cinematic professionalism, but the harder he tries, the more synthetic it feels. Updates and flourishes, like a roiling crowd scene or moonlight streaming through ripped-open walls, are deadened by this worked-over feel.

The demonic exception to this is Mr. Maguire's Tully. This vicious bully's few scenes shock with suddenly unsuppressed malice. His hair-trigger id opens up with the bottomless potential of nastier film noirs, but wholly unglamorized. (There's also a bit of a treat in seeing a baby face turned rotten, like Elijah Wood's psychopath in "Sin City.")

To Jake, who still carries a torch for Lena, Tully is probably the worst-case nightmare for what could happen to his former lover, depicted with a callousness that a film made in the 1940s might not easily have allowed. Which returns us to the question of Mr. Soderbergh's audience. Part of the demographic seems unlikely, if not downright fictional; the director seems to want to reach people who know "Casablanca" or its contemporaries enough to care about this movie's efforts, but in their heart of hearts want to see their romantic illusions debunked.

Even that implies a bit more energy than this film possesses.

Modern directors don't seem to be able to process the fact that the key to film noir was the censorship that required that evil always end badly. This made it quintessentially moralistic and profoundly American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2006 12:00 AM

...and dialogue. A somewhat lost art in Hollywood.

Posted by: Bartman at December 15, 2006 2:34 PM

Spielberg used some of the same techniques on Schindler's List

Posted by: RC at December 17, 2006 2:46 AM