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Summary: Kafka, an insurance worker gets embroiled in an underground group after a co-worker is murdered. The underground group is responsible for bombings all over town, attempting to thwart a secret organization that controls the major events in society. He eventually penetrates the secret organization and must confront them.
With an aesthetic approach borrowing heavily from The Third Man and German Expressionism and a story that takes Kafka's labyrinthine bureaucracies and horrific duplicities and feeds them into an entertaining murder-mystery, Soderbergh's sophomore effort may not be fully 'Kafka-esque', but it's a clever and cynical film that questions the need for closed doors at all in modern government as well as negotiating ideas of the modern as the most horrific state of all.
Unpersuasive, paceless, photographed in inky black-and-white most of the time and in jaundiced color for fifteen minutes, it's sort of a dim sophomore's idea of an "art film" ca. 1964. Actually -- not sort of -- it's Soderbergh's idea of one. Grey is like a duck taking to water as the official and officious office snitch; and a couple of curious chase scenes -- one involving a stalled elevator, the other a domelike magnifying lens -- enliven matters momentarily.
Steven Soderbergh sullies the name of Franz Kafka by directing this generic, mostly trite and sometimes laboriously quirky fictional script with the character of the great author as its protagonist. Jeremy Irons is tasked with portraying poor Kafka, Theresa Russell is degraded with the role of the fatalish "girl", and Ian Holm's talent is wasted playing a Bond villain. Watch Welles' The Trial or Gilliam's Brazil instead.
Thought it had a good atmosphere and good use of colour, while using an interesting idea of just "adapting" Kafka as a whole (in ways), and putting a murder-mystery in there. Someone said it's like Cronenberg's Naked Lunch and that's a good comparison, because Soderbergh did something very similar. Enjoyed it a lot, expected to come on here and see more glowing reviews. Don't see the hate.
Although no Soderbergh films are quite alike, his restrained style really doesn't help him here. While there is great black & white cinematography and some good performances, the mix of fiction and non-fiction doesn't quite add up to a solid whole like the contemporary feature Naked Lunch does. A nice score, and a great atmosphere, but as the mystery deepens the film becomes less and less interesting. A sophomore slump which lifts maybe too much from German expressionism and Terry Gilliam.
Employs the same loose adaptive technique Cronenberg would use, filming William Burroughs' "Naked lunch". Despite the odd final act I feel this is far superior to both versions of "The Trial" I've seen and really succeeds at delivering the kafkaesque atmosphere and imagery.