Definitely one of the more enjoyable Hollywood films of 2007. Soderbergh’s third Ocean film goes back to the basics, as in vibrant Las Vegas mise-en-scene, clever plot twists, and simple character motivations. It’s all welcome after the disaster of Ocean’s Twelve, a rambling self indulgent gab fest which has to be one of the worst films of recent memory. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his gang of confidence men shell out the revenge after their own Ruben (Elliot Gould) gets financially screwed by another Las Vegas player (Al Pacino hamming it up). Soderbergh relishes the way light bounces off slot machines, neon signs, and casino high rises, playfully blocking his fun characters through labyrinths of reds and yellows, never taking the proceedings too seriously. It’s good to see the boys back, plotting with the best of them, referring to the old guard with joyous nostalgia, simply doing what they do best.
Steven Soderbergh better be careful. Over the past few years, he’s made some “daring” formal choices when it comes to his films, but a consistent and glaring mistake as well. The one cinematic aspect that binds the awfulness of Ocean’s 12, Bubble, and now The Good German is boring and relentlessly indulgent screenplays. The Good German might be the apex of this failure to compliment visuals with story, sporadically using voice over narration, a muddled espionage angle, and corny dialogue which ultimately alienates Soderbergh’s tail of post war Berlin from the forefathers (i.e. Casablanca, The Third Man) he’s trying so hard to reference. The actors, namely Clooney and Blanchet do all they can with the material, but Soderbegh can’t bring together the many convoluted threads of this seemingly intricate story, producing a mixture of cold, monotone scenes with sometimes stunning B/W photography creeping over planted CGI and archival footage. The Good German represents the antithesis to earlier Soderbergh films like The Limey, Out of Sight, and The Underneath, which all rely on the script to set the foundation for his dazzling directing. Lately, Soderbergh has forgotten what comes first, and in turn has laid some serious eggs. For a director this powerful, talented, and experimental, there’s no excuse for slumming it with low grade material.
Soderbergh uses neo-noir aesthetics to break up time and space with different color schemes, which he uses to better effect in Out of Sight and The Limey. Not to say Underneath isn’t full of clever twists and turns, strong performances by Peter Gallagher and Alison Elliot, and a awesome display of Noir revisionist style. The film does get tiring though in the final act, but Soderbergh more than makes up for it with his vivid and lingering camera style. Maybe one of the truest to form neo-noirs, up there with One False Move and Bad Influence.