Corporal Tully (Tobey Maguire) is his designated driver, but despite his fresh-faced looks and small town charm he is also a black market wheeler-dealer for anything from Scotch to girls and - the central plot of the film - valuable German scientists.
Cate Blanchett, even more beautiful in monochrome than Technicolor, is Lena Brandt, forced to turn to prostitution for Occupation Marks to survive devastated Berlin. Brandt is Tully's "girlfriend" and also a former lover of Geismar - he ran a Berlin news bureau before the war.
Too much of a coincidence? Yes. Predictably, a murder soon follows and Geismar realises that Brandt's secrets about the war are of interest to much more powerful people than himself.
Large parts of The Good German is murder mystery, but comments on the nature of war, justice and revenge are neatly woven into the plot. Having read the book, I wondered how they'd fit in the long and complicated story.
However, the stripped down and tweaked version in the film works better (I've never been able to tie up all the loose ends in the novel). Still, I'd have preferred a bit more character study and a bit less moral argument and whodunit.
Blanchett's Brandt is a very attractive combination of strength and vulnerability (you can't help but fall for that smoky German accent). Clooney's Geismar is a disappointment - he comes across as detached and dull and his relationship with Brandt never catches fire.
Maguire performs best of all and his boyish but nasty Tully is, despite the relatively short screen time, the most convincing character.
The poster for The Good German asks: "If war is hell, what comes after?" Great material for a film, it appears.
- Frik Els
* Frik Els is a columnist for Finweek magazine
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