Literature professor in 1930s Germany, John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) explores his personal circumstances surrounding his ailing mother (Gemma Jones) in a novel advocating compassionate euthanasia. His marriage to Helen (Anastasia Hille) is crumbling when the book is unexpectedly enlisted by the new Nationalist Government in support of propaganda, Halder finds his career rising, including new membership of the Nazi Party at a senior level - as an academic who bolsters the party image. He takes up with a university student, Anne (Jodie Whittaker) who is keen to see a fresh Germany born out of the new order. But Halder's change in fortune puts him in direct conflict with his Jewish friend and psychoanalyst, Maurice Gluckstein (Jason Isaacs), with devastating effects.
Review by Louise Keller:
I really like the story that tells of the war-time friendship between a university professor and a Jewish psychiatrist, but the film suffers badly from a dose of 'Englishness' in which, not only do all the characters speak with a pronounced English accent, but there is a sense of the theatrical in the way John Wrathall's screenplay interprets C.P.Taylor's stage play. Despite a strong performance by Viggo Mortensen and a tangible melancholy mood that reflects his character's inner conflict, the result is a disappointing and muted affair that keeps us at arms' length, when our emotions should be at their most vulnerable.
Austrian director Vicente Amorim takes great pains to make us understand Viggo Mortensen's mild-mannered history Professor John Halder. Dedicated to his work, the academic pours out his soul in his alleged fiction-writing, yet we can easily identify the cracks in his daily life that prompt the topics about which he writes. Mercy death is the topic of his latest novel, which is also the reason Hitler's SS has summonsed him to give credibility to their less edifying policies. John is a man of quiet determination with an ailing elderly mother (Gemma Jones), a piano-obsessed distant wife (Anastasia Hille) and a young student-lover (Jodie Whittaker) who wants to believe in something. But there is an unshakeable bond between John and his long time friend and war-compatriot Maurice (Jason Isaacs), whose profession as a psychiatrist allows him to act as John's conscience. It is to Maurice that John admits that when he's troubled, he hears music. Mahler, in fact. Maurice's diagnosis? That his friend is simply taking refuge in fantasy in a crazy world.
Mortensen offers a solid performance as the man who believes in books but is unwittingly swept into a role in Hitler's SS that is decidedly uncomfortable for him. His comfort zone lies with Maurice, with whom he shares academic intercourse. Hence, the way events evolve and John becomes a prisoner of the dashing uniform which his new wife Anne finds sublimely attractive, is unconscionable. As Mortensen said during his Sydney visit, this is a film that doesn't offer audiences a pat ending, but illustrates the unnerving normality of evil.
The film's elements are at odds with this powerful story. It is shot in Budapest to represent Berlin. English is spoken to represent German language. As for the emotions, the intention is there, but we are left with an idea of how we should be feeling, instead of our hearts being destroyed, as they rightly should.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The title, Good, can be interpreted as a question, a damnation or an ambiguous statement about human nature, as literature professor John Halder (Viggo Mostensen) slips almost casually into the Nazi machine, an unwitting participant. This film contributes to the important debate about morality in times of political trauma and oppression of personal freedoms. It continues the questioning of German society before and during the war, examining how perfectly 'good' man could end up wearing the hated SS uniform, without having actually done anything evil. Or has he?
Delicate and nuanced writing dealing with the central theme give Viggo Mortensen the opportunity to create a complex character whose naïve response verges on stupidity - not goodness. Jason Isaacs is outstanding as his Jewish friend, increasingly fearful for his own life as well as that of Germany, and Jodie Whittaker is seductive but morally compromised as the student whose pragmatism hides a sly admiration for the new Germany. Great supporting work from (among others) Gemma Jones as the skittish, dying, troubled mother, Anastasia Hill as Halder's rather odd wife, whose piano playing seems not only to keep her from wife and mother duties but is sending her potty; and from Mark Strong as a smarmy party censor.
For all its provocative themes, Good is not as good as I'd have liked, faltering in dramatic areas and burdened with a transition from the stage that could have been better shaped and managed. The pacing tends to sag and then hurriedly pick up, and the character of Halder is not entirely credible in several key aspects, notably the screenplay's handling of his moral failure. We never know when he felt compromised by his inertia in the face of the Nazi machine - which is the key to his moral compass.
Published September 3, 2009
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GOOD: DVD (M)
CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs, Mark Strong, Jodie Whittaker,[BREAK]Steven Mackintosh, Gemma Jones
PRODUCER: Sarah Boote, Billy Dietrich, Kevin Loader, Dan Lupovitz, Miriam Segal
DIRECTOR: Vicente Amorim
SCRIPT: John Wrathall (C.P. Taylor play)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Dunn
EDITOR: John Wilson
MUSIC: Simon Lacey
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrew Laws
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission/Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 9, 2009
PRESENTATION: 16: 9
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
DVD RELEASE: September 3, 2009