From the outset -- slanting credits in white over grainy, shuddering stock-footage -- The Good German declares itself a product of a bygone age. And we're seeing an age gone by; Berlin, June, 1945, as broken people walk broken streets and an uneasy peace is built while fighting in the Pacific goes on. Army journalist Capt. Jake Geismer (George Clooney) is here to report on the Potsdam conference, as Stalin, Truman and Churchill meet to partition Germany. Before the war, Jake was in Berlin; it's a different city now, rubble run by guys like his motor pool driver, Tully (Tobey Maguire). Tully's having fun and making money, playing everyone in the city for a patsy aided by the air of chaos and doom: "The whole city spread its legs for you -- that whole eat, drink and be merry bullshit, seize the day -- It didn't make anyone smarter. ..."
Tully doesn't think of himself as such a bad guy; he's more than willing to help the girl he pimps get out of the country. Maguire's work -- coupled with Paul Attanasio's screen adaptation of Joseph Kanon's novel -- make it clear that Tully is one of those men who finds in war a chance to be someone -- or something -- that peace would not afford him. And, as fate would have it, Tully's new girlfriend is Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett, eyes dark and voice husky), a German who used to work for Jake when he was in Berlin. Jake and Lena were also lovers; now, they're just two people who used to know each other.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, The Good German isn't a badly-made film; just the opposite. The problem is that it's so well-made -- camera work, vocal recording techniques, process shots and film stock are all carefully manipulated to make The Good German look as if it was made around the time it's set -- that every time I felt The Good German's story and characters pull me in, some incredibly movie-conscious movie moment would be so strongly crafted and cut that it would make me acutely aware I was watching a movie; it's hard to be enmeshed in a character's emotional journey when your brain is screaming out what a great, retro-styled insert Soderbergh (who also served as his own director of photography) just put into the scene.