About ten minutes before this movie actually ended, I thought it was mercifully ending. There had been a street crowd scene. “The Good German” had been murdered on the street. The journalist and protagonist (George Clooney) looked remorsefully down at the corpse, the scene went from close-up to panorama, and then went dark. I expected “The End”, but the movie’s tacky end needed yet another 600 seconds.
I was completely misled by the title of this movie. The title conjured up notions of a change of attitude towards the ordinary German people of the time, millions of whom had themselves been powerless victims of their own Nazi government. I expected a lot. I was disappointed.
To sit in a theater for 90 minutes and not yet know who “The Good German” was suggests a serious plot defect. What could have been an intensive, calculated suspense was merely rampant confusion. Then, an easily missed 5 word sentence in Cate Blanchett’s dialog finally identified the title character.
The film’s intent is not to convey that some Germans were good Germans. Rather, it is the continuation of the typical, anti-German depiction of the Nazi years. It also simultaneously portrays an equally blatant anti-American sentiment by demonstrating that our government’s hands were becoming just as dirty as were the Nazis’. The film spotlights our government’s strategy of tracking down Hitler’s rocket scientists and putting them to work for Uncle Sam, regardless of the fact that they had been card-carrying Nazis. A fat cat American politician states this as our government’s goal. He is in Berlin to attend the Potsdam Conference and flatly depicts America’s strategy. This movie portrays the tactical execution of that strategy. The activity is justified by the notion that the Soviets in post-war, occupied Berlin are doing exactly the same thing. Both camps are searching for “The Good German”. He had been an administrative assistant in the Nazi rocket program. As such, he had the “goods” on a Nazi rocket scientist. The Good German was publicly threatening to “spill the beans” on that scientist. The Americans did not want that. They wanted to emigrate a “clean” Nazi. The Russians wanted The Good German to lead them to the rocket expert. The Soviets were unaware that the rocket scientist was already in an American safe-house.
There is no sign of a “normal” German woman in the film. There are only two female characters, both prostitutes. They are Cate Blanchett and her cohort. Blanchetts’s character is Jewish. Blanchett had been Clooney’s pre-war girl friend, is currently the girl friend of Clooney’s assigned, military driver, and is the wife of The Good German. Cate Blanchett’s co-worker is used to illustrate that “all Germans knew what they and their government were doing during the war”. It is the familiar statement of collective guilt. A Jewish small shop owner is presented as a legless victim of the Nazis; the result of a Nazi “experiment”. It is inconceivable that such a person would have been in an established business in bombed-out Berlin two months after the Nazi collapse. The Jew is presented in a classical stereotype as a small, second-hand shop owner also dealing in sleazy, under-the-table activity obtaining papers for a price for anybody who needs them. This portrayal is presumably to illustrate that the post-war fate of the Jews would likely be more of the same pre-war stereotypes that had befallen them. The new administrators were already playing the same cards; to wit, Clooney admonishes the hapless Jew, “Don’t Jew me on the price.”
There is gratuitous violence (man-on-man, man-on-woman) in far too many scenes. Once Clooney’s character is brutally beaten up in an apartment and we never find out by whom. Was it the Americans or was it the Soviets or was it somebody else? An ex-Nazi and Berlin policeman, who allegedly speaks no English, has been hired to be the enforcer of the American Occupation’s legal counsel. We never find out precisely why, except that it is evident he is now working for the new authorities. Clooney’s driver is murdered because he single-handedly takes on the entire Soviet spy apparatus and loses. This ploy is simply not believable. Clooney pieces together facts about his driver’s death that indicate he was killed elsewhere from the river site in the Russian Zone, where his body was found. Clooney is able to do this because of an innocuous conversation with a German boy sailing a toy boat on the river. Why connecting up these dots with other similar obscure events is important is never made sufficiently clear. This and similar incidental quantum leaps of logic exemplify why the plot is a hodge-podge of contrived dialog. Trying to piece together the plot was like assembling a picture puzzle with the aid of a hammer.
After the film’s false conclusion, we were treated to an unbelievably tacky ending. The entire closing scene from Casablanca was reused to send Cate Blanchett off to England. This was reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman standing in the fog in their time on their runway. In this film, it was raining. Virtually everything else was the same, even down to the two propeller engines going through their startup procedures as Blanchett walked up the stairs of the plane. The effect didn't work. If creative thievery is a misdemeanor in Hollywood, this could be classed as a genre felony.
This film was touted as recapturing the film noir atmosphere of the 1942 classic, Casablanca. It didn’t make it. The forced plot was vaguely reminiscent of The Third Man (1949) starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and Trevor Howard. It didn’t rise to that level either.