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
Soderbergh continues to experiment, but as with Solaris, it just doesn't pay off.
Its clear that from the off that Soderbergh has set himself a strict mandate for this film, make it as much like a forties movie as possible. The music, the acting style, the lighting, the process shots and background paintings all give it a great look and feel.
However, everything is so low key and downbeat that it fails to deliver any suspense or menace. What is essentially a modern thriller dressed as classic noir just isn't thrilling. The plot twist and turns but the drama is never heightened, the pace never seems to increase, it just plods along to its conclusion.
Apart from the sex and swearing, the actors seem straight jacketed into their roles by the 40's styling seemingly because the script lacks any of the dry wit and charm you'd find in a genuine movie of this era. George Clooney for example has every little to do, his character has none of the snappy dialog you'd expect, given his Marlowe-esquire role in the plot. Soderbergh compounds matters by drawing an unfortunate comparison with Bogart. Though generally the acting was of the high quality you'd expect from such a sterling cast, it's difficult to empathise with their characters plights given the lack of suspense or melodrama.
Overall the experiment fails to deliver anything other than a beautifully shot but unengaging film.
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