Berlin, July, 1945. Journalist Jake Geismer arrives to cover the Potsdam conference, issued a captain's uniform for easier passage. He also wants to find Lena, an old flame who's now a prostitute desperate to get out of Berlin. He discovers that the driver he's assigned, a cheerful down-home sadist named Corporal Tully, is Lena's keeper. When the body of a murdered man washes up in Potsdam (within the Russian sector), Jake may be the only person who wants to solve the crime: U.S. personnel are busy finding Nazis to bring to trial, the Russians and the Americans are looking for German rocket scientists, and Lena has her own secrets. Written by
A clever look: imitation vintage B-movie in black and white; Steven Soderbergh's appropriate, artful gimmick for this film set in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII.
Cate Blanchett turns in an apt theatrical performance given "The Bad German's" archly retro conceit. As the film's mother/whore femme fatale, Cate is sphinx-like, world-weary and made up like a drag queen at Mardi Gras. George Clooney, meanwhile, turns in his routine performance that is altogether too modern and casual. Put him in scrubs and he's ready again for the ER. Together, they create no chemistry nor any other natural science. Toby McGuire, as a sleazy, black-marketing GI, is so painfully hammy you'll find yourself begging for him to stop.
The storyline is awkwardly developed and unnecessarily opaque, its characters cold and remote. There's really nobody to cheer for or identify with; no emotions to hook us into this world. When was the last time that international intrigue, on-screen, was so unintriguing? It's too bad we've been served such an exciting cinematic look -- an overly lit, noir-like one -- only as window dressing on a story as bleak and dreary as the blitzkrieged landscapes on view.
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