1 January 2009
Los Angeles Independent
Image Larry Horricks.
© Good Films.
It's just not a season of award nominees and sweeping epics without a film about Nazi Germany.
But one of this year's entries into that category doesn't solely focus on the brutality of the era. Instead, it concentrates on high-class German citizens who shield their reservations and disgust after joining the Nazi Party as the only option to secure their own safety.
In Good, the latest film by Austrian director Vicente Amorim, we meet John Halder, a successful professor enlisted by the Nazi government to write nationalistic propaganda. He is played by Viggo Mortensen, who tones down the intensity and tough-guy attitude of recent roles to assume the rather meek persona as a man struggling to balance the daily needs of his students, wife, two children and senile mother.
Then, one day, a high-ranking Nazi official calls Halder in to discuss a book the professor had written a few years earlier about a husband who euthanized his wife because she was suffering with an illness. To his surprise, Halder is recruited to write works that embody the philosophies of various topics, including euthanasia, for the public to read.
Nazi officials grow pleased with his work, and Halder finds himself being more and more embraced by the party and sees his life become more pleasant and successful because of it.
Halder eventually leaves his wife for a young woman and former student named Anne (Jodie Whitaker).
Many scenes in the film depict Halder having conversations with his close friend Maurice (Jason Isaacs), a Jew who begs Halder not to join the Nazi party, insisting the decision would threaten their relationship.
The first element of the film, most viewers will notice, is the solemn yet convincing performance delivered by Mortensen. Mortensen, who has arguably been one of the top cinematic tough-guys of the decade, brilliantly conveys the film's message with calm diction and cold stares.
It is an unexpected role for him to play, but it's also a reminder that Mortensen is a legitimate actor who has sadly been overlooked by the Hollywood Foreign Press in this year's Golden Globe nominations.
Good lacks the emotional intensity of most Holocaust films but does serve as an interesting lesson in social history.
The "cold shoulder" or "turn the other cheek" attitude displayed by members of the Nazi party that were not active in the Holocaust provides interesting insight to the individuals who were fighting their own personal wars.
Most of the aforementioned are presented in scenes where the gradual decline of the friendship between Halder and Maurice are shown.
Although a majority of Good's tone is calm and swimming in subtleties, scenes of violence and disregard for human life against Jews help bring the film to a memorable climax.
Some may immediately view the film's conclusion as unsatisfactory on the surface, leaving a feeling of confusion on what the lesson is; but that very confusion is part of the lesson Good wants viewers to carry away.
Many like Halder joined the Nazi Party to support the leadership of their country, but few, other than military officials, saw what was actually being done to Jews.
Once faced with this scenario, it is impossible to nail down a specific emotion or feeling that could go through the mind of someone who sees such horrible atrocities in person for the first time.
Such a sight may seem insignificant, especially those audiences exposed to the most violent of Holocaust films. But Good offers a unique perspective that is too often missing from American cinema -- a view from the other side, of people caught in the middle.
Last edited: 9 January 2009 15:38:40