Though not quite great, Good (2008) is definitely...good. Based on C.P. Taylor’s play (which was performed at the Donmar Warehouse in a production starring Charles Dance in 1999), and directed by the Brazillian Vicente Amorim, the movie takes place in 1930s Germany, and charts the experiences of John Halder (Viggo Mortensen), the “good” man to whom the title alludes. A literature professor with a rather fraught home life (including an ailing mother [Gemma Jones] and a wife [Anastasia Hille] who clearly prefers her piano to her husband’s attentions), Halder writes a novel which inadvertently finds favour with the Nazi Party who recruit him to pen a paper arguing for the benefits of mercy death. (Compassionate euthanasia was one of the subjects of his book.) Seduced by the prospect of promotion (not to mention a movie version of his novel), Halder believes - or convinces himself - that involvement with the party might be the way to “steer the country in the right direction.” The choices and compromises that Halder makes in adhering to this stance jeopardise his life and relationships, not least his friendship with the Jewish psychoanalyst Gluckstein (Jason Issacs); they also give Good much of its moral weight and interest.
Amorim and his screenwriter John Wrathall have thoughtfully and intelligently “opened up” Taylor’s play for the screen; though the time-line is a rather jerky in places (the flashbacks are not always well handled) the film has a distinctive look and succeeds in putting the viewer in Halder’s head. (Music, in particular a series of pieces by Mahler, plays a crucial role in communicating the character’s unravelling - which is also presented as his awakening.) The film is aided by a compelling performance from Mortensen, and excellent support from a posse of Brit actors we see all too rarely on screen, not only Jones and Hille, but also Steven Mackintosh, Mark Strong and Jodie Whittaker. (Issacs - who co-produced the film - also registers strongly.) Taut and gripping, Good involves and stimulates up to its surprising and haunting end.