When Good Men Do Nothing

Source: Critics Notebook

Image Larry Horricks.
© Good Films.
A radical concept lies at the heart of Good, the new film by Vicente Amorim adapted from the C. P. Taylor play. The notion is this: The Nazi party was not comprised entirely of evil men. Some of its members were in fact everyday citizens without any particular animosity towards Jews. At first such an idea proves startling, but upon deeper and more meaningful reflection it becomes apparent just how clearly valid it is.

In telling the story of a man swept up by the tide of National Socialism despite never subscribing to its tenets, the movie maintains a particularly terrifying feel. By refusing to caricature John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) even as he joins the propaganda apparatus, dons a uniform and neglects his Jewish best friend (Jason Isaacs), the film drives home its unsettling message: That could be us.

Good has been shot and played out with mannered artifice, from the wide shots of the scrupulously clean interiors to Mr. Mortensen's rendition of his character's compulsive passivity. This method greatly enhances the sense of banal superficiality that so often accompanies vile behavior and allows willfully ignorant accomplices to remain happily so. The filmmaker focuses things inwards, on small personal moments and the specifics of Halder's particular journey. Only occasionally do the trappings of historical events come into play, and even then they remain small specters in the deliberate, studied portrait of Halder's transition to party man.

Mr. Amorim and screenwriter John Wrathall have produced a compelling intellectual exercise, a movie that openly wrangles with complex ethical territory and never fears the controversial equation of a man wearing a swastika with something less than total villainy. Of all the recent movies to examine the period of history, this one does so from the most unique, universally affecting perspective. The distanced style makes emotional investment a challenge and things often seem completely hopeless. Yet, as Halder awakens to the horrible consequences of his inaction, a measure of redemption unfolds. As he takes desperate reparatory steps, the film shows us a man haunted by what he's done and pleading with us to never repeat his mistakes.
Last edited: 5 January 2009 07:12:03
© Critics Notebook.