Little White Lies #22
Image Larry Horricks.
© Good Films.
Are we all morons? Or is it time that Hollywood ditched the English-speaking actors with dodgy foreign accents and embraced the realism that subtitles can afford? At least this adaptation of CP Taylor's stage play has come up with a creative solution to the assumed laziness of cinemagoers. Set in Germany during the rise of National Socialism, the cast (a mixture of Brits and Americans) have opted for a uniform upper-class British accent, thus avoiding the inadvertently comic effect of the alternative and making a political point to boot: what happened in Germany, says Good, could have happened anywhere.
A fair-haired and bespectacled Viggo Mortensen leads the cast as the everyman John Halder. Halder is a university professor whose personal problems (demented mother, distant wife, dead-end career) are eased by his gradual compliance with the ascending Nazi party. He leaves his wife for 'Rhine maiden' Anne (Jodie Whittaker) and averts his eyes from his responsibilities with the help of cheerfully amoral wingman, Maurice (Jason Isaacs). Then the good times end, Maurice is in need of real friendship and Halder finds he is unequal to the task.
At first the ethical dilemmas feel familiar, and the conclusions foregone. Should Halder take a stand against the burning of books (er... yes)? Will he help his Jewish friend escape persecution (probably)? It also seems unlikely that the pro-Hitler arguments of Halder's dollybird mistress ("Anything that makes people happy, can't be bad!") would persuade a man of his education. Yet, in Good the cathartic act of heroism you've been conditioned to expect never arrives.
This is a film without heroes and the resulting lack of a moral centre is both unnerving and fascinating. It's not that Halder is a particularly fervent supporter of fascism, but his most passionate objections are of the aesthetic kind - he finds all that shouting and banner-waving a bit naff. Mortensen's performance proves he can do contemptible and spineless, just as believably as noble and brave. It's a versatility that's rare in a leading man - especially one with such impressive bone structure.
It's a shame director Vicente Amorim's translation from stage to screen isn't quite successful. On occasion both the acting and the dialogue sound stagy and un-nuanced. Mark Strong, owner of the most menacing stare in showbiz, is effective as the Nazi officer, Bouhler, but Steven Mackintosh's inanely grinning henchman has definite shades of 'Allo 'Allo. The tone is also inconsistent. In one weirdly Carry On moment, Halder, having narrowly escaped being caught in flagrante with Anne, hurriedly dresses to greet his wife. When he exits the room his glasses are wonky.
But for all its flaws, Good is bold enough to explode a myth that many bigger, better-made war-era movies haven't even dared confront: oppressive regimes don't always bring out the best in their victims. For every individual made heroic by adversity, there must have been thousands of others with no heroic depths to be uncovered.
You've seen Defiance and you've seen Valkyrie. Is another World War 2 drama really necessary? Rating: 2
Seeing Mortensen play against type is a treat not to be missed. Rating: 3
Let the ideas sink in and you'll realise how unusual this movie is. Rating: 4
Last edited: 17 July 2009 15:30:05
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