THIS is not an "easy" film. But then stories of the Holocaust, by virtue of the subject matter, are not particularly pleasant, even if they opt for a redemptive feel and something akin to a happy ending.
From the play by CP Taylor, Good deliberately and studiously avoids anything remotely resembling a happy ending. Instead, it pursues a path toward a shattering denouement that sums up the conflict tearing the central character apart.
John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) is an academic in a Germany run by the all-powerful National Socialists. Invited by the Nazis to draft
a paper on euthanasia – inspired by a failed novel he once wrote – Halder agrees.
In doing so he sells out and joins up, becoming a party member and an officer in the SS. In the act of putting on the uniform, Halder crosses the line. His life will never be the same again, even if he tries (and fails) to convince himself that by being within the system he can work against it.
This delusion is jerked back to reality by his relationship with his friend, Maurice, a half-Jewish colleague desperate to get out of Germany. Halder rationalises his new situation and argues he cannot lift a finger to help.
Later, he begins an affair with a student (played by Huddersfield actress Jodie Whittaker, from Venus), walks out on his family and places his mother in "care". The transformation from liberal intellectual to Nazi is complete, yet John refuses to recognise how complicit he has become in his friend's agonies, or the wholesale compromise he has embraced.
Good slowly builds to a crescendo that aptly depicts how ordinary men can be corrupted and how so many of us lack the moral courage to do the right thing.
It is given tremendous dramatic weight by the casting of Mortensen and Jason Isaacs (as Maurice), two actors of equal stature who take the plot down divergent paths while
always heading for the
At its most fundamental this is a story about denial. Weak Halder denies the situation around him. He denies his friend. He denies the truth. Always he clings to the concept of goodness – that the good in the world will win out. He's wrong,
Good is cloaked in guilt, and it's a guilt we should all feel. Mortensen brings it to vivid life, but it's Isaacs who bears the brunt of inaction, inertia and ignorance.