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The Good German (2006)
Excellent film in the Noir tradition, but much, much more.
I came to this film in January 2007, well after its commercial release. The expectation I had of this film was that it was a retro Noir piece; an attempt to recreate a Noir film. I was prepared to be disappointed by a gimmicky film.
Well, it certainly is Noir, but that is only a classification of the technique and genre of the film. That the director utilized the Noir camera to shoot this film was an excellent choice, and I believe that approach very much enhanced the finished product.
The film is a morality piece. Among the best, if not the best, morality piece I have ever seen. The film manages to examine both the microcosm and the macrocosm with no deference to either one; something that has rarely been accomplished in film.
The film's acting is excellent across the board, something that has been lacking in most films for many years. The plot is concise and quickly involves the viewer. It has been many years since I have left an American film and became more moved about the subject matter with each passing day. I have not been this moved by an American film since "Francis;" and Francis was based on a real character.
Cate Blanchett has earned herself a place in my heart with her performance. I would compare her screen strength to Jane Greer's performance in "Out of the Past." In fact, the required depth of her character, which she portrays flawlessly, gives her performance an edge that has rarely been seen in any film.
I treasure my list of favorites very selfishly, and am predisposed not to enter a new film on that list. But this film, with the potential mine field it faced by having been shot in an "old style" has earned a place on that list. On that list are such films as "On the Waterfront," "America, America," "Auntie Mame," "The Third Man," "Little Big Man," "8 ½," "The Open City," "The Thin Man," "Le Gentleman d'Epsom," "Night at the Opera," "The Misfits"- and only several dozen more of that caliber.
There will be, I am sure, many who will dismiss this film as a try to recreate something that should be left to the past. But as one who treasures Noir, to see the genre brought to life and used to confront a larger than life subject matter is thrilling. Whether this film is as authentically Noir as the "The Killers," "The Big Heat," "Roadhouse," or any number of Noir classics is irrelevant. "The Good German" takes Noir to a new place. Noir has always examined the psyche of its characters, and occasionally the morality of the situation in which the characters have been placed, but rarely if ever has Noir been used to examine society as a whole.
I would be very surprised if this film does not bring forth a spurt of neo Noir films. I can only hope that they have the depth, good writing, good camera work, good acting and directing that this film has.
I plane to re-watch this film several more times now that I have found it.
On the set
There are only a very few moments of absolute awe which I can recall in my life. What is not reflected in the blurb about this film, and the comments referring to Miss West's embarrassing appearance in this film, is the effect she had on the cast and crew when she entered the set on the Paramount lot. We were in the "gym" waiting to begin shooting, talking and yapping away as actors will do at 7 AM before anything gets going, when the double doors to the set opened, and as each person turned and looked at the lady entering and realized it was Mae West, they fell silent - until you could have heard a pin drop or your heart beating just a bit faster and louder. Miss West may have been a poor shadow of what she had been years before, but she was still Mae West. Incredible as it may seem, at eighty years old she radiated a presence I have felt from very few others. Later on, while shooting a scene with her, and the director was loudly yelling at her through her ear-piece, rather than becoming angry at the rude treatment she was getting, she simply turned to me with that Mae West smile; and in one look she said, "It's okay kid, I'm Mae West, who the hell gives a damn about him." When I looked back at her, somewhat in awe, she winked. Ultimately, she did the take the way she wanted to do it. Maybe the public will never see that scene as I saw it played out, but I will never forget it.