Dir: Vincente Amorim. UK/Germany. 2008. 96mins.
A meditation on how compromise and moral weakness foreshadow the worst offences of the 20th century,Good isan admirable though poorly-executed adaptation of Scottish playwright CP Taylor’s 1981 play about the rise of Nazism.But it never acquires the play’s philosophical weight, dramatic power or provocative imagination.
Time wreaks havoc with the best intentions.The struggle spanning three decades to get the film made has undoubtedly weakened the movie’s dramatic potential.
One unintended consequence is that the movie’s style, mood and storytelling is almost uncomfortably familiar to Costa-Gavras’ 2002 Amen. Like Bent, another Holocaust play that made for a poor movie adaptation, Good is a work that feels lost in time.
The second feature of Brazilian director Vincente Amorim (The Middle of the World), the UK/German production premiered as a special presentation at Toronto. Viggo Mortensen’s lead turn is far from his best though he provides the necessary name recognition this curio needs for limited art house and festival exposure. Top English-language markets are no doubt the movie’s best bet.
Taylor’s play sprang from an unanswerable question of how a modern and enlightened society caved in to the genocidal and irrational destructiveness of Germany’s national socialists in the 1930s.
The movie opens in 1937, jumps backward four years and ends in 1942. It is constructed like a Faustian pact that focuses on the travails of John Halder (Mortensen). He is a talented literary scholar and university professor whose novel on euthanasia gains the notice of top Nazi officials.
Like Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist, Good traffics in the sexual allure of fascism. The story reveals his meteoric rise to power while he blindly ignores the government’s repressive totalitarian tactics and aberrant nationalism. Halder ostensibly forsakes his wife for his beautiful, compliant student (Whittaker).
As Halder ascends the Nazi hierarchy, his gravest failure is not heeding the warnings of his closest friend, Maurice (Isaacs), a Jewish psychologist about the hate filled, government orchestrated anti-Semitism campaigns.
The movies have their own shape, form and means of expression. Theatre is built on language and the suggestiveness of the imagery. Film is more bound to psychological representation.
It requires a tremendous leap of faith to watch rigorous actors performing this material with impeccable English accents and not feel alienated or put off by the artifice. On the stage, this kind of Brechtian distancing has a historical, even theoretical underpinning that makes dramatic sense and also emotionally accessible.
Good just leaves a lot of talented actors floundering. Shot on location in Budapest, the absence of specificity contributes to a strange, bloodless atmosphere that leaves the viewer suspended or alienated the action.
The visual choices are hard to understand. Andrew Dunn’s photography is deliberately blurred and soft focus, further underlining the lack of forensic detail or dramatic insight.
What should be some of its strongest passages, a massive book burning demonstration or Amorim’s staging of Kristallnacht, feels so removed and drained of the necessary outrage the drama is not just muted; it is non-existent.
Good Film Ltd.
International sales agent
Odd Lot International
From the play by CP Taylor
Director of photography