Viggo Mortensen may always be best known as the hunky Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, but the actor had a long career in supporting roles prior to that blockbuster and has since escaped typecasting by choosing unexpected vehicles -- such as David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises and last year's Western Appaloosa. In Good, the actor stars as John Halder, a novelist in wartime Germany caught up in the machinations of the Nazi regime. He's just as convincing as a youthful and demure university professor as he was playing a tattooed, hard-edged gangster or a nervy gunfighter.
The film likewise demonstrates range, eschewing the big stories and grand set pieces typical to Nazi movies like Tom Cruise's Valkyrie in favor of a less imposing but affecting tale of an average citizen faced with the radical restructuring of his life. Halder has been summoned to the German Chancellery by a Nazi party leader (Mark Strong) to discuss an obscure novel Halder wrote regarding compassionate euthanasia. Halder then must deal with the attention; the film, written by John Wrathall (from a play by C.P. Taylor) and directed by Vicente Amorim, wisely lets the audience infer on its own why these forces of evil are so interested in him.
Freed by this simple but highly suggestive plot, the story can concentrate on Halder's reaction and the decisions he must now face. The Nazis are repulsive to Halder, but should he play along? Mortensen gives Halder's quiet desperation a needed dose of ameliorative humor and realistic pragmatism. The character's gradual envelopment into the Nazi order comes in bits but is a powerful exploration of integrity. As many of us might, Halder divides himself to survive, but he does it at the risk of his friends and family.
Performances are uniformly strong. Mortensen is thoroughly convincing as a man whose character and, ultimately, soul are tested, conveying a mix of amusement, embarrassment, and torment in the face of inexorable forces he finds repugnant. The performance allows his co-star, Jason Isaacs, who plays Halder's best friend, a Jew, the room to be more noisily distraught as a man faced with a less ambiguous, more severe, fate. The appealing Jodie Whittaker as Halder's mistress embodies an intriguing auxiliary temptation.
Though the movie's conclusion might be tepid, its restrained performances and carefully constructed investigation of morality deserve picking through yet another corner of World War II and offer another reason to praise its star.
Genre: Drama. Written by: John Wrathall. Directed by: Vicente Amorim. Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs, Jodie Whittaker, Mark Strong.