The rise of national socialism in Germany should not be regarded as a conspiracy of madmen. Millions of "good" people found themselves in a society spiralling into terrible chaos. A film about then, which illuminates the terrors of now.
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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. Written by
A new movement for change, promising a life richer in education, physical prowess, diminished crime, and increased wealth is like a magnet, and the promises that National Socialist Republic created in all forms of the media in the 1930s were probably heady enough that the post World War I Germans could turn a blind eye to the vacuous reality of a rising maniac's promises. GOOD is a film that suggests how the good common people responded to the rise of the Third Reich - the Nazi party with its loathsome guardianship in the Gestapo. It suggests how personal needs could cloud the mind to see only the benefits of a new order that would eventually destroy millions of people and attempt to transform the world in a new social order. And it is painful to watch the disease progress into every aspect of life in Germany.
John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) is a professor of literature and a writer of novels: his latest novel is a fictional story about a man who, out of love for his suffering wife, assists her dying. This novel catches the eye of Hitler and the Reichminister Bouhler (Mark Strong) who encourages Halder to draft a paper describing how euthanasia is a good and righteous act - a paper that will eventually 'justify' the massacre of Jews and other 'undesirables'. Halder's life is in such upheaval (his mother (Gemma Jones) is dying of tuberculosis while living with Halder and his piano obsessed wife Helen (Anastasia Hille) whom he divorces, Halder finds happiness only with a student Anne (Jodie Whittaker) who is fascinated with the Nazi party, and Halder's only close friend is psychiatrist Maurice Israel Glückstein (Jason Issacs) who is Jewish and loathes the Nazi party. Because of Halder's needs in life and also because of the glory he feels being praised for his novel, he agrees to be an 'advisor' to the party. His confrères include Adolph Eichmann (Steven Elder) and Josef Goebbels (Adrian Schiller) and slowly the good man John Halder becomes immersed in the Nazi party.
Maurice, being Jewish and detesting John's alliance with the Nazis, must escape Germany as the Jewish purge begins. His only hope is aid from Halder's Nazi affiliation and he desperately seeks Halder's help. Halder is unable to come to Maurice's aid; Maurice is evacuated and Halder's inspection of the concentration camps makes him face his worse fear about his selling out his morals and honor and his losing his closest friend.
GOOD began as a play by C.P. Taylor and was transformed into a screenplay by John Wrathall. Vicente Amorim directs a cast of mixed experience, but from Mortensen and Isaacs and Jones he draws fine performances. Throughout the film Halder has aural delusions: at times of stress he hears music, a factor that in retrospect makes us question his own stability. The music he hears is a sad rewriting of the works of Gustav Mahler -' Die Zwei Blauen Augen von meinem Schatz', and 'O Mensch!' from the Mahler 3rd Symphony (both sung in English translations by people on the street!), bit and pieces of score quoting phrases from Mahler in a very pedestrian arrangement, and finally orchestral recordings of moments from Mahler's Symphonies No.1 and No.3. The pedestrian quality of the score weights the film down. The cinematography by Andrew Dunn is fine (the film was shot in Hungary). Overall, it feels like this is a strong idea of a statement of what happens to the minds common men in times of crises. For this viewer it simply doesn't accomplish its goal, despite the worthy attempt Viggo Mortensen makes.
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