Dir: Steven Soderbergh. US. 2006.107mins.

Steven Soderbergh's latestcinematic experiment is an homage to atmospheric wartime noir classics like The Third Man and Casablanca, attempting to reconjure themagic by recreating post-war Berlin on the backlot, shootingin black-and-white and encouraging the actors to give heightened theatricalperformances a la Bogart or Dietrich. It's a bold idea but a failure in the realisation, not necessarily because those 1940s movies arepeerless, but because Soderbergh cannot generatesuspense or romance from his mise en scene. It'stechnically audacious, but ultimately dreary to watch.

The package here - Soderbergh and three of today's most compelling film actors(Clooney, Blanchett, Maguire) - will intrigueaudiences and box-office figures will be respectable. But reviews will be farfrom raves, word of mouth won't be strong and mainstream moviegoers attractedby Clooney will be turned off by the black-and-white. In the final analysis,it's nothing more than an expensive curio.

Soderbergh's films are generally cerebral affairs which rarelyinspire thrills in, or generate tears from, the audience (remember Solaris'). While his objective tone wasappropriate for verite drama like Traffic or Bubble, it is not for a film emulating Casablanca or The Third Man. He understands the heightened theatricality of thosefilms, but ignores the genuine feeling and emotion that was invested in themand which makes them resonate decades after they were made. The experiment isall too knowing and detached, without room for real emotion or real tragedy.

The setting of the film,written by Paul Attanasio from Joseph Kanon's novel, is Berlinin 1945 during the Potsdam Peace Conference. Ironically, for the fact that heshot on the backlot, Soderberghuses real footage of the devastated city shot by Billy Wilder for hiswonderfully salty 1948 comedy A ForeignAffair.

Nor does he limit himself to1940s sensibilities. The Good Germanis full of brazen sexuality, foul-mouthed dialogue and ugly violence.

The story concerns Jake Geismer (Clooney), a cynical USwar correspondent who arrives in Berlinto cover the peace conference. Geismer used to managea news bureau in the city before the war and had been in love with thebeautiful (and Jewish) Lena Brandt (Blanchett).

He is met from the airportby his driver from the motor pool Corporal Tully (Maguire), a wide-eyedMidwestern kid on the surface who in reality is a corrupthustler getting whatever benefit he can from the beleaguered city.Tully, we discover, is sleeping with Lena, butwhen Jake tries to approach her, she is not interested in him, burdened by hersecrets and experiences in the war.

The complicated plot, mainlycomposed of shady characters on all sides of the political spectrum andmultiple red herrings, sees Tully trying to cut a deal with the Russians fordelivery of Lena's husband, who may or may notbe alive, and his scientific intelligence from the Nazi period. When Tully endsup dead, Geismer starts to investigate, drawing himever closer to discovering the secrets that plague Lena'spast.

Ironically, A Foreign Affair is the film to which The Good German bears most similarities.Although that was a comedy, it perfectly captured the amorality of post-war Berlin and the sociallegacy of the Nazi regime, all embodied by Marlene Dietrich as the ultimatesexual opportunist. Blanchett does her best to apeDietrich, but, accomplished actress though she is, she cannot bring any life orsex appeal to her gloomy character.

Clooney also struggles to producehis usual magnetism in a role which would have been perfect for Clark Gable orDana Andrews. Maguire, meanwhile, steals the acting honours.Exploiting his youthful Peter Parker naivete to thehilt at first, he is all the more menacing when he turns pugnacious. Once he isdispatched to an early grave 20 minutes in, the film loses its energy.

Production company
Section Eight

Worldwide distribution
Warner Bros

Executive producers
Benjamin Waisbren
Frederic W Brost

Ben Cosgrove
Gregory Jacobs

Paul Attanasio, basedon the novel by Joseph Kanon

Peter Andrews (aka Soderbergh)

Production design
Philip Messina

Mary Ann Bernard (akaSoderbergh)

Thomas Newman

Main cast
George Clooney
Cate Blanchett
Tobey Maguire
Beau Bridges
Tony Curran
Leland Orser
Jack Thompson
Robin Weigert
Ravil Isyanov
Christian Oliver