It's an awful shame when a film with so much potential is so hopelessly mis-sold by its title.

Based on the hit play by CP Taylor, starring the capable Viggo Mortensen and taking a subtle, nuanced approach to a subject too often the stuff of melodrama, it comes to the screen with all the right credentials, yet the result is a mess. Veering awkwardly between scenes of real horror and scenes so badly played that I wondered, briefly, if the director had intended it to be a comedy, its one virtue is that it is so blundering it makes it easier to understand how its heroes blundered blindly into the ugliness of Nazi Germany.

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Good is the story not of the extreme Nazi hate figures we see so often, but of the 'good' people. All those quiet, civilised, respectable Germans who never meant for anything bad to happen but nevertheless participated in their country's incremental slide toward fascism and mass murder. It's an intriguing angle on a subject that still has plenty to offer, but to buy into it we need to be convinced that the film's hero, the studiously fragile Professor Halder (Mortensen), either can't see what's happening or can easily deny it to himself, and the script is just too ham-fisted for that to work.

Similarly, the awful lines given to his student Anne (Jodie Whittaker) make it impossible to believe in her seduction of him - yes, it's entirely plausible that he might want to go to bed with her, but not that, being smart enough to become a senior literature professor, he would angst about it or desire to engage her in conversation. This is a film that ought to make the viewer cringe, but not in that way.

With the exception of Jason Isaacs (who is excellent as Halder's Jewish friend Maurice, even allowing that he has the advantage of the most sympathetic role) and Gemma Jones (as Halder's ailing, demented mother), the cast of this film deliver their lines as if reciting for a school play, complete with patronising pauses to let slower viewers catch up. Then there's the matter of Halder's odd mental quirk - he's prone to snapping out of reality and hallucinating music during times of stress. It's easy to see how this might have worked on the stage, but in the film it's supremely irritating. Though it might have the potential to make us fear for Halder, knowing what the Nazis did to the mentally infirm, that opportunity is wasted. Instead, we feel rather as if we're watching Springtime For Hitler but with real gas chambers.

Badly lit and with a headache-inducing habit of blurring in and out of images, Good also has poor sound work, which makes much of it come across as stagy and unnatural, unfortunate in a situation where everything needs to seem as ordinary as possible. Though it has its moments, overall this is a missed opportunity.

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2009
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An examination of the people who thought of themselves as 'good', yet allowed the Nazis to rise to power.
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Director: Vicente Amorim

Writer: John Wrathall, based on the play by C.P. Taylor.

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs, Jodie Whittaker, Steven Mackintosh, Mark Strong, Gemma Jones, Anastasia Hille, Ruth Gemmell, Ralph Riach, Steven Elder

Year: 2008

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: UK, Germany


Glasgow 2009

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