DVD Review: The Good German

Movie ••½ Picture ••• Sound •••½ Extras NONE
Director Steven Soderbergh pays homage to black-and-white classics like Casablanca and The Third Man while putting his own unique spin on things - and it's a stylistic chimera that takes some getting used to. Even stars Cate Blanchett and George Clooney seem to struggle with the tone of their performances. Blanchett is convincing in an icy, Marlene Dietrich sort of way, but Clooney gets caught somewhere between Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and a modern-day movie star.

As his own cinematographer (under a nom de plume), Soderbergh has created gritty black-and-white images with extremely high contrast. Overall, the DVD transfer holds up well. The 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been cropped to the 1.33:1 ratio used in movies of the Forties. Surprisingly, the reformatting seems right, as if this was what Soderbergh had in mind all along while shooting the movie. There is some loss of clarity in several interior shots, and background interiors occasionally look flat, but these may be purposeful attempts at a Hollywood-set look. There's generally a wide grayscale, with good definition and plenty of detail in most scenes. Blanchett's light complexion and Clooney's dark, leading-man good looks go well together in black-and-white.

Sonically, the disc is fine, too. Dialogue is anchored mostly front and center and is always intelligible. The occasional surround-channel effect is more about subtlety than home theater bombast. However, the attack and decay of a gunshot in one scene sounds extremely natural. Thomas Newman's Oscar-nominated score is both rich and appropriately retro, adding nice punctuation throughout the film.

There aren't any extras here, but if you go to the film's Web site (thegoodgerman.warnerbros.com), you can find some interesting production tidbits and an interview with Soderbergh. [R] English, Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround; French and Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (1.85:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual layer.

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