Good, for all intents and purposes, is a well made film, but it unfortunately must deal with the fact that it is just one of several World War II films this year and the fact that it also bears a similar resemblance to a far more engaging feature hitting cinemas at the same time, The Reader, does not work in its favor. The film hides behind its title, which sticks with you throughout, telling the audience those with even the best intentions were not immune from becoming involved in the atrocities Adolf Hitler bestowed on the world prior to and during World War II.
Set in the 1930s, the story centers on John Halder (Viggo Mortenson), a literary professor whose name has attracted the attention of Hitler after a work of fiction he penned four years earlier advocating compassionate euthanasia. The topic is something the Reich committee is now interested in pursuing as a reality and Halder has been asked to draft the papers. The request comes as a relief to Halder who had no idea why he had been called forward, but the subsequent conversation asking why he never joined the National Socialist party is not as much of a relief. Halder had resisted the party for a variety of reasons, but in order to see his career take off he must forgo his beliefs, a move that proves to be his undoing.
Halder’s decisions soon hit his family as he becomes separated from his wife and must deal with his mother who is suffering from senile dementia. As if that weren’t enough his best friend, Maurice (Jason Isaacs), who he served with in the first World War is a Jew. Their friendship becomes strained for obvious reasons and Halder soon finds himself becoming an unwitting participant in the Nazi movement.
The idea is an interesting one, but the execution involves far too many moments of convenience and coincidence to be taken too seriously. Even though the film barely runs over 90 minutes, it was only 30 minutes or so in that I was ready to give up on it. There were far too many “knock on the door” moments that arrived just in time to move the film along. The story never really felt like it was in control of itself as much as it was being manipulated by the storyteller. It’s rather distracting and makes for a very disjointed and unaffecting story.
This isn’t to say the film does not have its highlights. Viggo Mortenson continues to make interesting film choices following the fame he earned after Lord of the Rings and he is once again great in the role of John Halder. Mortenson has an ability to act with his eyes and let his face tell the story, something he utilizes in many ways in this film. It was also nice to see Jason Isaacs as a character other than the villain. Isaacs is a fantastic actor that plays the part of the bad guy so well it seemed to become his calling, but here he proves he has more than just one side to him, something many of us know, but it is nice to be reminded every now and again.
Mark Strong was once again great in a limited role as Philipp Bouhler, head of the FÃ¼hrer’s Chancellery, and is proving he is going to be a name to watch. He was excellent in both Body of Lies and RocknRolla earlier this year and I cannot wait to see him as Lord Blackwood in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Jodie Whittaker also impresses once again, just as she did in Venus in 2006 opposite Peter O’Toole. Whittaker is a gorgeous young actress and I can see her competing with another favorite of mine, Rosamund Pike, over the coming years as they both bring a particular grace to their performances.
This was the first film of director Vicente Amorim’s that I had seen and he was working on an adaptation of C.P. Taylor’s highly acclaimed stage play as adapted by John Wrathall. I find little fault in the work Amorim put in as a director and more toward what feels like an oftentimes contrived plot that seemed unwilling to flow naturally. The beautiful cinematography by Andrew Dunn is also affected by the storyline’s failings as you look upon a rather tense moment in the film only to see a Nazi banner glowing in the background. If I wasn’t already looking at the film as “just another World War II” movie perhaps I would have seen these beautiful shots as something magical to go along with a moving storyline. However it felt manipulative and distracting, almost as if I would lose myself in the beauty of the picture and forget the lazy plot devices used to get me where I was.
All this sounds rather harsh, but the truth is that this film hinges on its moments of convenience. Each major turn in the story seems to pop up out of nowhere and just in time to move us into the next act. The film is flawed, but the work that was put in by the actors and the technical crew should not be overlooked. However, I am starting to think people do need to approach these World War II films with a different eye. The Nazi movement was not a beautiful thing and golden halos surrounding the set bathing it in a gorgeous amber hue is not quite copacetic to the subject matter.