Viggo Mortensen, Jodie Whittaker and Jason Isaacs star in this movie. Set in the Germany of the 1930s, Johnny Halder (Mortensen) is a man leading a complicated life. Caring for his highly-strung wife, their children, the house, a chronically-ill mother and holding down a job as a writer and literary professor – Johnny is more or less a saint of a man. His best friend, and fellow First World War veteran, Maurice (Isaacs) is a Jewish psychiatrist who regularly pops round to poke fun at Johnny for this ‘do-gooder’ reputation and they cheerfully dissect how ridiculous Germany has become with Hitler as its leader over the best cheesecake in town. Things could be better, of course they could, but are there portents of black times ahead?
Things start to go wrong at the University where Johnny works. Dismayed at the now obligatory book-burning scene, Johnny reaches something of an impasse. He should follow his conscience and resign rather than tolerate the limitations placed on his teaching by the Reichstag. Instead, he is brought into the inner sanctum of the Party. It seems his latest work of fiction has caught the eye of the Fuhrer. Its theme of euthanasia, or rather his humane treatise on the subject, has conjured him the role of consultant for the party’s treatment of the ill. Halder is to visit hospitals as part of his honorary role and ensure that the patients are never treated anything other than humanely. For this tiny service he would be handsomely rewarded, if only he would assuage everyone’s concern about one trifling matter: his refusal to join the Nazi Party.
And that’s where I will leave the plot of the film. It was clear from the DVD sleeve that the film, based on a stage play, was going to be all about the nature of good and evil and the little steps, the little compromises, the almost imperceptible rationalizations that lead each man down one way or the other until it is too late. I say too late because such a film can only go one way. (Did I mention that the cheesecake Johnny so enjoys is also from a Jewish shop?)
Isaacs is outstanding as the indignant, betrayed friend reduced to begging. His disappointment in his brother-in-arms is palpable. Jodie Whittaker’s poorly realized character, as Johnny’s trophy student/ new wife, is not given the room to deliver as she has done in previous outings – she was outstanding in “Venus” with Peter O’Toole – so her exit from the movie is of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Even Viggo’s performance is slightly more muted – and I am a huge fan of “Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence” – Instead of a man struggling with these horrific dilemmas we get a man who is sleepwalking through the whole of the 1930s.
Little flourishes of artistry – like Johnny’s perpetual problem of imagining the music of Jewish composer Mahler wherever he goes – should help the viewer empathise with the situation he finds himself in and engage with his tortured soul. Only the conceit is so ham-fisted and crowbarred in for just that purpose that it is a real turnoff. If it feels like you are being manipulated then you are.
Less than the sum of its parts, Good (2008) is an intellectual discussion that is better discussed by switching off the film and actually discussing it with your friends.
IN SHORT – Watch it if you’ve run out of other better Nazi Germany/Holocaust films to watch – Watch it for Isaac’s furiously good performance.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Caught me in a bad mood. Isaacs deserved better.