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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Good (review)

No actor has ever looked less comfortable in a Nazi uniform than Viggo Mortensen does in this tepid morality play (based on the stage play by C.P. Taylor) about ethics, wisdom, and how readily some otherwise intelligent and upright people can dispose of them. Good thing it’s thematically appropriate that Mortensen’s John Halder is uneasy wearing the swastika — too bad the moment when the mild-mannered literature professor of 1930s Germany dons the uniform for the first time, near the end of the film, is one of the few moments of real feeling to be found here. The film lets Halder, the epitome of the “good” people who do nothing and so allow evil to thrive, travel from “Hitler is a joke, he’ll never last” to “I never thought it would come to this” with a docility that should underline the effortlessness with which men like Halder could ignore the little voice of conscience in their head telling them they were giving in to wrong, but instead it seems to suck all emotion out of the film. In aiming for subtlety and finely shaded grays, Good gets washed out. Still, Mortensen’s (Eastern Promises) performance is very fine indeed, and there are a few stinging zings: one is an ironic tribute to the fanatical recordkeeping of Nazis, and the other is the final scene of the film, when Halder at last recognizes the evil all around him, and retreats to a place inside himself that, we wonder, he may never escape.


MPAA: not rated

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Janet Davis

    “I never thought it would come to this” with a docility that should underline the effortlessness with which men like Halder could ignore the little voice of conscience in their head.”

    Well, DUH, junior.
    This isn’t just the crux of the film; It’s the whole effing point. That he DIDN’T see it coming. That he was so academically smart, yet so naive and passive to the growing political movement around him, that he didn’t perceive its’ having any danger or lasting impact until it was too late. (Remind you of anyone?)
    A lot of struggling middle and upper class Germans gained tremendously from Hitler’s rise, and there wasn’t this initial fear of violence from Naziism to begin with. (Remind you of anyone?)
    Or are you watching history with your 20/20 glasses? Pretty arrogant…
    And once they figured it out, if their own character were as weak as Halder’s, it was too late to renege their opinions, or sneak out of town.
    To point out that this was the FAILURE of the film is to admit that you fail to understand people, or history.
    This IS the cautionary tale, but told in the same slow and maddening process as life itself. There is a time to be passive, and a time to act. Halder chose to remain passive, hoping that the growing madness would resolve itself without HIS having to do anything about it. (Remind you of anyone?)
    Only my take on it, of course. Just saying…

  • shoop

    Haven’t seen the movie yet, although I have read the play. I don’t think MA missed the point; I think she was saying that once the movie had made its point, it somehow should have had more of an emotional impact. I DO think, however, that it’s a good movie to see for someone who can so chipperly say, “Hey, I totally would have been fighting to bring those Nazi bastards down.” Yeah, maybe you would have; that’s what a lot of “good” people would say. And maybe not–because that’s just what a lot of “good” people didn’t do.

  • MaryAnn

    *Valkyrie* is a completely different kind of film from this one, and hence my review of that film is written in a completely different tone: yes, a chipper one.

    A lot of struggling middle and upper class Germans gained tremendously from Hitler’s rise, and there wasn’t this initial fear of violence from Naziism to begin with. (Remind you of anyone?)

    Yes, Janet: It reminds me very much of the American people of the last eight years (not that struggling Americans actually have done better, but they’ve been able to pretend that they have as they piled on their debt), as I’m sure is the point you’re trying to make. And in those last eight years, I’ve been one of those people other people look at like I’m crazy when I’ve talked about lost civil liberties and illegal wars and corporate hegemony. It’s been frustrating, and even now most people cannot see what I and other people like me have been saying.

    So thanks for the condescension, but I think I do know what I’m talking about when I say I’d like to see some more emotion in a story that is not merely about matters intellectual.

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