out of Five
Soderbergh's latest project is something of a mixed bag – it's technically astonishing and Blanchett is excellent, but the script is dull and the confusing plot fails to engage.
What's it all about?
George Clooney stars as military journalist Jake Geismer, who returns to war-torn Berlin in order to cover the Potsdam peace conference in 1945. He's hoping to hook up with his former mistress, good-time girl Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), so he's a little taken aback to discover that she's shacked up with his cocky driver Corporal Tully (Tobey Maguire), who also has a small sideline as a racketeer.
However, when Tully turns up dead, Jake is compelled to investigate and soon uncovers a web of corruption and conspiracy that involves the Germans, the Russians and the Americans.
Technically, the film is an astonishing achievement. Soderbergh uses black and white photography, sharp lighting, rear-projected backdrops, single camera set-ups, and a classic score (courtesy of an Oscar-nominated Thomas Newman) in order to perfectly recreate the look and feel of a 1940s' film (Casablanca is the obvious model, as indicated by the film's wonderful posters).
The actors have been instructed to deliver theatrical 40s' style performances and this works well. Blanchett, in particular, is superb, channelling Marlene Dietrich and Ingrid Bergman as easily as she channelled Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, whilst Maguire's performance gives the film a shot of much-needed energy until his screentime expires.
Unfortunately, Clooney's performance is oddly subdued, depriving the film of his usual movie-star charisma and suggesting that he's taking things far too seriously. In addition, the plot is both tedious and confusing and the supposedly dramatic revelations are something of an anti-climax.
That said, there is a terrifically exciting chase sequence towards the end of the film, but by then it's a case of too little too late.
Worth seeing for its technical achievements and for Blanchett's performance but this should have been a lot better.