Review by Jack Foley
YOU can count on Viggo Mortensen to making interesting career choices. His post Lord of the Rings CV is littered with roles that surprise, whether it’s the David Cronenberg double-header of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises or the Ed Harris Western Appaloosa.
Vicente Amorim’s adaptation of the late Cecil Taylor’s provocative stage play Good marks another intriguing prospect, although sadly a deeply flawed one too.
Mortensen plays plays John Halder, a good, decent literature professor in 1930s Germany who finds fame through exploring his personal circumstances in a novel advocating compassionate euthanasia.
When the book is unexpectedly enlisted by powerful political figures within the Nazi party in support of government propaganda, Halder finds his career rising in an optimistic current of nationalism and prosperity.
Yet with Halder’s change in fortune, his seemingly inconsequential decisions potentially jeopardize the people in his life with devastating effects, including his Jewish best friend (Jason Isaacs).
Amorim’s film exists in an ethical grey zone that is designed to challenge the audience, as well as inviting them to see things through the German perspective of the 1930s.
But it struggles to escape its theatrical origins, or strike a particularly even tone. The kitchen-sink drama elements sit uncomfortably alongside the harder hitting political insights, while the surreal musical elements that regularly interrupt proceedings simply become a distraction.
Mortensen struggles to overcome his off-screen persona, while even the likes of Jodie Whittaker (as his eventual love interest) and Mark Strong (as a high-ranking German officer) struggle with the stagey elements of the script (which often appears to be winking at the audience in too much of a knowing way).
On the plus side, the film does come alive whenever Isaacs (who also produces) and Mortensen share the screen, while reminders of the evils of the Holocaust and the repercussions of indifference and/or apathy are never amiss.
But Good ultimately fails to be as emotionally devastating as it should, or to sufficiently challenge the audience in a way that inspires anything other than indifference towards it.
It’s well meaning and intelligent (courtesy of Taylor’s source text), but clumsily handled in terms of its cinematic transfer. And even the usually mercurial Mortensen suffers as a result.
Running time: 91mins
UK DVD Release: August 31, 2009