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DVD Review

DVD cover



Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs and Jodie Whittaker
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 31 August 2009

The rise of fascism in thirties Germany would bring to power a regime which would plunge the world into a world war, where millions lost their lives. Sections of their own population were eliminated. During this tumultuous time John Halder is an intellectual literary professor who initially is opposed to the rise of the Nazis, but a request to write a paper based on his own book starts his slow but sure journey from opposition to party member...

Good (2008 - 1 hr, 31 min, 53 sec) is a film, directed by Vicente Amorim from a script by John Wrathall, which was based on the play by C.P. Taylor.

The movie tells the story of a quiet professor (Viggo Mortensen) who, although at odds with the Nazi party, is flattered when they ask him to write a paper, based on his novel about humane euthanasia. The appeal to his vanity works in part because his home life is problematic. His mother (Gemma Jones) lives with him and is recovering from TB, but also appears to have dementia. His wife, Helen (Anastasia Hille) suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, continuously playing her piano. Work is little better, as he is not a party member, not only is his chances at advancement in question, but his whole career. The only point of sanity in his life is his friendship with Jewish psychoanalyst Maurice (Jason Isaacs). This all changes when he meets Anne (Jodie Whittaker), a student with whom he starts an affair and gets an offer from the Nazi Party to write a paper advocating humane euthanasia.

One thing that can be said for the film is that it has a very strong cast, even the supporting players put in some excellent performances - from Steven Mackintosh, who plays Freddie the idealist who willing joins the party and only too late realises that every aspect of his life is now under scrutiny and Mark Strong as the educated and seductive Nazi official who first tempts Halder into moving closer to the party. A lot of films do not have good roles for women so it was nice to see both Anastasia Hille and Jodie Whittaker both having strong roles to play, both give convincing performances.

I understand that the title is part of a quote by Edmund Burke “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, but when we inspect Halder's life, I’m not sure that I can find a good man. He leaves his wife and children for a younger woman, worse still, his reaction to an orgy of book burning is flaccid in the extreme. Not only is he a faithless husband but also a faithless friend. As Maurice’s life becomes more difficult under the Nazi regime, Halder spends most of his time palming his friend off with weak excuses and platitudes. But, surely Halder is supposed to be an intellectual, so the excuse that he travelled down the path to full party member, eventually becoming complicit in the final solution just doesn’t seem to hold water. Halder is not in the end a good man, he is a man who chooses things because they either appeal to his vanity or advance his career.

If there is a good man it is Maurice, a person full of life and vigour, who maintains his opposition to the Nazis’ throughout the film as well as having to suffer the feckless friendship with Halder, which has lasted ten years following them both serving in the First World War. His character starts the film full of vitality and Jason Isaacs portrayal of a man whose options are limited is masterful, from the brave, but foolish decision not to leave Germany, as it is his own country, to the realisation that his war record no longer will protect him. By the time he begs Halder for help the audience already know that it is just too late for the character, but even at this juncture his character's spirit has not been broken.

Although it may be a harsh stance to take, even this film which attempts to explore how an educated nation succumbed to one of the worst regimes in the history of man, only seems to confirm the idea that only the victims were innocent, everyone else has blood on their hands.

Partly this skewing of the plot away from what was originally intended has to be placed at Viggo Mortensen’s feet. He plays Halder, initially as reserved and trapped. The problem is that as he moves through the ranks, he does not appear to suffer any indignation or revulsion at what is happening in his country, even the few times when Halder would be justifiably angry, hurt or scared Viggo produces the same quiet performance. This makes it impossible for the audience to identify with him or even have a good idea what is happening inside his head. At the close of the film, when the true horror of what he has become involved in strikes him, I didn’t feel that I cared.

The film also contains some oddities, presumably held over from the stage play. When Halder feels under stress he thinks he hears and sees people singing Mahler, although an odd thing to happen, it is only in the film to make the last two words spoken have impact, as Halder races through a concentration camp to find out where the music he hears is coming from, he finds a Jewish band playing for the new arrivals. Oddly its only at this point, ten years after he has set down this path, that he realises that everything which he originally feared is not only true, but that he has become a part of it.

The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with what appears to be a faultless picture. There is only a single Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, with optional English subtitles.

For extras you get rather strange soundbites, where bits have been pulled from what seems to be longer interviews, so I’m not sure why they chose to present them this way. They range from a few seconds to a few minutes - altogether they last for about thirty minutes. Viggo Mortensen provides seven sound bites (3 min, 34 sec), Jason Issacs gets fifteen (7 min, 56 sec), Jodie Whittaker gets eight (5 mins), Steven Mackintosh provides five (3 min, 15 sec), Mark Strong another seven (4 min, 18 sec) and Vicente Amorim another nine (6 min 46 sec).

I will not say that the film is not worth watching, though I think that it will divide the audience between those who feel Halder just does things for a quiet life, never really understanding where his choices are leading him, and those who feel that an intelligent man should have known what the cost of his actions were going to be and this rift will depend how you view Viggo’s performance. Personally I think the quiet approach does not make up for his intellectual stupidity.


Charles Packer

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