"Good" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

10/01/2010 Posted by Admin


DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

Directed by Vicente Amorim, Written by C.P. Taylor (Stage Play) and John Wrathall, Rated R, 96 minutes.

By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz

In title, Vicente Amorim’s adaptation of C.P. Taylors World War II stage drama, "Good," is a bit presumptuous.

The film assumes the story of a protagonist that never progresses, tramples over every value he holds, and who shows little remorse for it.  It doesn’t make compelling cinema. Without any substantial growth in the principle character, the movie follows a thread of redundant plot points muddled by the film’s incoherent structure, rendering "Good" to be anything but.

"Good" opens in 1937 with the Third Reich sitting comfortably in power and looking to expand their knowledge of morals and ethics. Enter John Halder (Viggo Mortensen), a German English Professor  whose novel about a man who euthanatizes his wife touched the Fuher enough to bring him in for interview. Halder tells his Nazi interviewer of his life several years prior, when he cared for his two young children, his supportive yet neurotic wife, and his mother, who suffered from dementia. He’s a good man with strong values, he takes great care of his hectic household, and he opposes the Nazi party--at least until they offer him a job as a humanity consultant in the S.S.

Things escalate quickly after joining up with the S.S. – as these things tend to do.  John quickly leaves  leaves his wife and children for a younger pupil; he betrays his longtime friend and therapist, Maurice (Jason Isaacs), by refusing him the exit papers that could save his life; and finally, he moves his unstable, suicidal mother into her own apartment with a nurse that stops by once a day. Changing from the humble and dedicated husband and professor of the film’s first 15 minutes, Halder passively and irrationally betrays himself throughout the film's remaining 80 minutes.

John’s journey from the peaceful English professor of the first act to head-turning monster of the subsequent two acts is quick, to say the least. The speed at which Amorim tells his story is abrasive and confusing; he jams in so much information in such a short time period, he leaves many of the film’s many temporal leaps far too understated, especially considering how redundant the story becomes. The flashing chronology places so much of the same in succession that he could seemingly put any scene in any position and have ended up with the same movie. It’s hard tell which part of John’s journey he’s on, and Amorim’s lack of signifiers leave the viewer wondering where in time they are rather than focusing on the characters’ decisions.

While much of the film’s lack of clarity is due to the director and editor, Mortensen doesn’t show much in the way of struggle. From the first frame to the last, John makes each decision with the same mild mannered, apprehensive sigh, as if it’s the first one he’s ever had to make. He leaves his wife, best friend and mother without much thought.  As things accelerate, his  manic outbursts are punctuated by more glasses fondling than Clark Kent being asked about Superman. Considering how dire the circumstances, it’s baffling and slightly upsetting how easily Mortensen digests these decisions.

In spite of the dark subject matter, the film’s production design is immaculate. From the naturally lit pre-war homes to the dingy yet museum-like Nazi administration buildings, the film’s look never properly characterizes its content. It’s a strange disconnect between style and story--Amorim keeps things static and clean as John watches those around him writhe in pain with indifference.

And that’s Amorim’s main problem--he remains too objective of John.  In letting him shrug off ethical debate both in performance and cinematography, John never receives judgment for his crimes.  His psychological collapse (briefly hearing music as those around him live out tortured and insecure lives) never resonates as proper comeuppance for the crimes he commits.  Despite knowing the ill nature of the Nazi party from the onset, John “learns” his lesson far too late. This, along with the film’s split narrative and confusing characterizations, make for a boring breakdown of man’s life in Nazi Germany that offers nothing more than a messy portrait in an elegant frame.

Grade: D+

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