The Good German

Cate Blanchett in The Good German (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2006).

It's not a great film--Tobey Maguire is terribly miscast, the Casablanca allusions are clumsy and pointless, and the story is predictable. Still, Soderbergh hasn't gotten enough credit for how effectively he uses forties camera and lighting technology. This too could have been even better: it's frustrating that he's not a master of composition in the frame, as so much else in his area of expertise would snap into life if he were. At times he comes close, when his subject is the naturally gray urban world of businesspersons and gangsters, as in Out of Sight and The Limey. The artifice of high-contrast black and white, however, puts demands on his artistry that show his limitations as well as his strengths. The frame above represents an unusually effective instance of visual audacity.

It also represents how striking Cate Blanchett is--not just in terms of physical beauty, but as an expressive actor of the highest order. She is undeniably the best thing about the film. When the camera hugs her features in close-ups, or anchors the sets to her figure as it clings to doorways and glides through corridors, all of Soderbergh's timidity temporarily evaporates.

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