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John Halder is a 'good' and decent individual with family problems: a neurotic wife, two demanding children and a mother suffering from senile dementia. A literary professor, Halder explores his personal circumstances in a novel advocating compassionate euthanasia. When the book is unexpectedly enlisted by powerful political figures in support of government propaganda, Halder finds his career rising in an optimistic current of nationalism and prosperity. Seemingly inconsequential decisions lead to choices, which lead to more choices... with eventually devastating effect.
For more about Good and the Good Blu-ray release, see Good Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 23, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs, Jodie Whittaker, Steven Mackintosh, Mark Strong
Director: Vicente Amorim
» See full cast & crew
Good Blu-ray Review
How does good turn to evil?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 23, 2010
It can be an unsettling experience watching a hulking male actor who normally bristles with machismo take on an introspective, quieter role. A good example comes from forty years or so ago, when Robert Mitchum confounded the critics with his turn in the still largely underappreciated David Lean film Ryan's Daughter. This rough and tumble actor, known as much for his off screen shenanigans as his dashing screen persona played an impotent Irish teacher seduced by one of his former students. The annals of film may not be exactly full of similar attempts by performers to defy their own typecasting, but certainly once the studio system had died down and actors became at least a little more in charge of their own destinies, it became more typical to see them stretch out and try, in the inimitable words of Monty Python's Flying Circus, something completely different. That same unease at seeing a star more usually associated with action adventure, even mythically infused, roles take on a fumbling, insecure portrayal is front and center in Good, a largely riveting drama which posits Viggo Mortensen as a literature professor swept up in the madness of Nazi Germany. In fact it's at least passingly interesting that both Mitchum and Mortensen play teachers who are led astray. If in Mitchum's character's case, it's a case of unrequited love with no major consequences (for him, anyway) other than a broken heart, in Mortensen's character's case, it's a situation of being slowly seduced by a sociopolitical madness which led to some of the greatest horrors mankind has ever known. Of course, Mortensen's John Halder is meant to stand for the German people as a whole, individuals who slowly and ineluctably were drawn into the insanity of Hitler and his regime, leaving their morality and their souls in the dust of Nazi atrocities.
Good is based on an early 1980s play by C.P. Taylor, which was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In this film version, an internationally funded production filmed in Budapest, Hungary, Viggo Mortensen essays the role of John Halder, a fussy literature teacher who comes to the notice of the Third Reich due to a work of fiction he has written which is about euthanasia. Sensing a kindred spirit of sorts, the Reich hires him to write an official paper on the subject. Halder is still benignly unaware of what his opinions may be fostering, and he even rejects repeated entreaties to join the Nazi Party.
Halder is surrounded by a host of petty, and not so petty, annoyances in his private life, including a mentally incapacitated mother (Gemma Jones) and his neurotic wife (Anastasia Hille), who is given to bouts of manic piano playing to stave off imagined (or are they real?) fears. There's a growing sense of foreboding throughout the early domestic scenes in Good as Halder is repeatedly interrupted by his mother's frantic pleas for assistance and his wife's insane noodling at the grand piano. Is Halder's own mental stability tipping over the edge? Soon a tipping point of another sort turns up when Halder becomes the romantic obsession of one of his comely young female students, Anne (Jodie Whittaker). His at first fumbling steps toward an actual affair seem to awaken a nascent spark in the awkward professor, and soon he has abandoned his wife and children and taken up with a woman who is the very model of a modern Aryan maiden.
In the meantime Halder's long friendship with a Jewish psychoanalyst named Maurice (Jason Isaacs, Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) devolves from one of near sibling revelry to clumsiness to outright sequestration. In fact it is Halder's relationship with Maurice that spurs the professor's crisis of conscience as he slowly becomes more and more entangled in the Nazi regime, ending up as an honorary member of the SS.
Good is a brilliant examination of the incremental steps individuals take, and by generalization society as a whole, toward absolute madness. Mortensen is a bit of a revelation in this role which is light years away from his usual film fare. Virtually unrecognizable, with his face screwed up into odd angles, and a halting speech pattern, his John Halder is a man who knows what the correct course of action is, but who has neither the moral fortitude nor the political means to achieve noble aims. The supporting cast, most notably Isaacs as Halder's put upon Jewish compadre, are all excellent, though both Jones' and Hille's roles are so intrinsically annoying that one almost begins to wish that Halder's thesis of benevolent mercy killing be tried out on them both.
Where Good is less successful is in its cursory examination of the societal forces at work in Nazi Germany. Part of this seems to be due to at least a couple of major edits which may have left large swaths of the film on the cutting room floor. After a slow and deliberate trek up to 1938, we suddenly segue to 1942 and it takes a few moments to figure out exactly what's going on. There's also another abrupt cut to a meeting in a park between Halder and Maurice that seems to come out of nowhere.
Director Vicente Amorim helms an impressive physical production here which ably recreates the bizarre world of late 1930s through early 1940s Germany, an era which saw everything from women wearing traditional Rhinemaiden outfits to IBM providing the Nazis with one of the first mainframe computer systems, which was utilized to track the whereabouts of every Jew who had been shuttled off to various concentration camps. The film is filled with odd little snippets of Mahler's music (in fact Halder's aural hallucinations are a recurring motif), and Mahler's odd concatenation of the hideous with the humorous plays extremely well with Good's unsettling ambience.
Good Blu-ray, Video Quality
When Norman Jewison accepted the Academy Award for Oswald Morris' cinematography on Fiddler on the Roof, he closed his speech by saying something like, "And yes, Oswald did shoot this film through a silk stocking." That same gauzy softness fills Good's AVC encoded 1080p image (in 2.34:1) with diffuse light and a rather oddly lyrical looking image, perhaps done intentionally to make an ironic statement about the horrors being depicted. That softness may put off some viewers who want pristine clarity in their hi-def releases, but there actually is decent detail here, despite the gauziness, and colors especially are often resplendent and beautifully saturated. Contrast isn't extremely well defined, another aspect of the softness issue, and so some of the darker interior scenes lack sufficient fine detail. Black levels are pretty inconsistent as well, leeching over into milky territory more than a few times.
Good Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Good is almost all small, intimate dialogue scenes, so don't expect a wealth of bombast from its lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. There are several moments of really excellent, intense surround activity, notably the horrifying Kristallnacht sequence, where smashing windows, screams of terror and the flicker of flames cavort around the surround channels in a danse macabre. Fidelity here is excellent, and the many snippets of Mahler music prick at the edges of the subconcious like some bad aural nightmare. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and there's some surprising dynamic range here, with occasional, but very effective LFE (listen for the great "whoomp" when an old flash camera is used to take Halder's picture). This isn't a showy track to be sure, but it gets the job done quite well.
Good Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Aside from the theatrical trailer, two fairly long SD featurettes are included, Interviews (59:39), which feature the stars talking about the project (with interstitials describing what they're talking about, perhaps put there for release to television stations for PR), and a Behind the Scenes (29:43), which shows some sequences being filmed.
Good Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Good could have use a little more fleshing out to make its central thesis even more cogent and compelling. As it stands, it's still a thought provoking and very disturbing look at one man's descent into moral turpitude, despite his better angels knowing otherwise. Mortensen has never been better, in a completely unusual role for the actor. Recommended.
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Good Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Good Announced on Blu-ray - August 17, 2010
New Entertainment Media has announced the WWII drama Good for Blu-ray release on September 28. Good stars Viggo Mortensen as a literature professor in 1930s Germany who, after writing a book about euthanasia, is supported and enlisted by the Nazi Party. It had ...
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