The problem with any drama about the holocaust is that they have to tread a fine line between showing the full horrors of it and descending into just a series of grotesque tableau – this is especially difficult when the focus is how seemingly ordinary people became involved in the machinery of murder of Nazi Germany. The issue is made even more complex when the drama moves from one format (stage) to screen but still attempts to use the same language to explore the issue rather than adapt to its new format.
Good started life as a stage play and it never really manages to lose that origin, which is part of the problem. The other major problem (for me) is an issue of miscasting that runs throughout the film (with one exception noted below) but most obviously falls upon the lead. The story of a conflicted academic drawn further and further into the SS, it focuses on his conflict between trying to “change the party from the inside” and going along with the flow to further his career – this conflict is central to the film. Now, Viggo Mortensen has shown that he is very good at playing conflicted characters in the past – however these conflicts have always been secondary to the primary motivations of the character rather than the focus. Without a character arc to hang the conflict around he seems to struggle with actually making you interested in the character.
Elsewhere the bewildering array of accents further draws you out of the drama and prevents you becoming as involved as you should be. I suspect that the surrealistic musical touches probably worked in a stage production but here (where action can be located within fully realised environments rather than a stylised stage set) they’re jarring, creating further distance.
The one saving grace of the film is Jason Issacs as a Jewish psychologist torn between his love of Germany (a country that he notes he fought for in the past) and the need to get out whilst he can. His friendship with Mortensen feels real and the scenes they share are the best in the film and show the quality of the writing if not the direction. As it is Good is a missed opportunity – a film that could have been a lot more but falls down at so many hurdles that it is difficult to recommend.