Good - DVD Review

'the main production pair expand Good well, making it a believable film in its own right rather than just a straight and direct stage-to-screen adaptation'

Converting a play to the screen is extremely difficult. Whether it is Shakespeare, Pinter or, in this case, C.P. Taylor, the pressure is on the adapting screenwriter and film's director to find a new angle to bring to life a playwright's vision, often meaning they are forced to experiment with timescale and structure. This is absolutely the case in Good, however, unlike a huge amount of adaptations Vicente Amorin and John Wrathall do an impressively neat job.

The reason this kind of transformation is needed when plays are bought to the screen is due to the fixed structure most dramatic works conform to. A startling majority still follow three acts, with three scene(ry) and costume changes, often moving through three different times and locations. A film demands much more than this, particularly on the location side of things and so, Amorin and Wrathall move the structure of Good around and add in locations that are necessary to convert the play. I haven't seen Good in the theatre but if I was a betting man I would probably go for it having the following three Acts; one in John Halder's (Viggo Mortensen) first house, one in Maurice's (Jason Isaacs) apartment and a final one in Halder's second house. The main production pair expand this well to take in a concentration camp, a narrow but suitably manic street during what I believe to be Kristallnacht and other locations for the main characters to converse in. It works wonderfully and makes Good a believable film in its own right rather than just a straight and direct stage-to-screen adaptation.

All that remains then is for the story to live up to the production values which it does and doesn't in equal measure. The 'Good' of the title is assumedly encapsulated by Halder who faces numerous tests of his character from the Nazi repatriation of his book to the advances of a female student (Jodie Whittaker). Halder's reactions to these events aren't necessarily 'good' but like all well-rounded characters we can see that his soul is willing even if his flesh and brain don't always follow it.

Where the film stops short of being a character study is at the point of entry of Maurice, a Jewish psychiatrist and long-term friend of Halder. Maurice acts as a sort of skewed moral compass for Halder, attempting to advise him on key matters in his own self-interested way. I recently heard an interview with Jason Isaacs talking about how he believed he had the best, but not main, part in the film, as the conflicted and fearful but outwardly confident companion to Halder. However, he really doesn't and this is where the problems with Good start.

The real key to the film; in both character's development, narrative and conclusion, is the relationship between Halder and Maurice and their reactions to the hand that fate deals them. By the end of it however, I wasn't convinced that the two were really friends, perhaps more casual acquaintances who see each other at surgery and not very often after that. There wasn't enough development of their friendship and they simply did not share enough meaningful screen time (I think I can remember Maurice in Halder's house once, if I'm mistaken, that figure is zero).

In Maurice's place, Halder instead has the advances and companionship of student Anne to contend with, her influences again being key to the story. This is another relationship fraught with problems when it comes to life on the screen but this time all of Jodie Whittaker's making. Her portrayal of Anne frequently veers from strong and forwards liberal to hardly noticed extra and her delivery of some lines feels extremely forced and trite. Frequently her presence takes you completely out of the scene, making it difficult to witness her impact on Halder, who despite the above two characters, is still the subject of the film.

Despite these problems and a clumsy side plot which delves into the real-life implications of the theories Halder covers in his novel, Good is an extremely well-rounded adaptation of its source. The only other thing to note is that C.P. Taylor's choice of title for his play makes it an extremely difficult film to review because it is almost impossible not to report the fact that Good is, well... good. Henceforth, to protect journalists and bloggers from using clumsy syntax, all playwrights and screenwriters should be discouraged from using adjectives as titles. Perhaps 'Decent' will have to suffice.


  1. I have to admit I've heard absolutely nothing about this film, in fact you're the first person I've known to review it... maybe I should check it out if it's over here in the States.

  2. Yeah I definitely think it's worth a watch. Mortensen (fast becoming, in my opinion, the best actor around) is very good. It had a tiny budget (Isaacs put some money in to get it off the ground) so doesn't surprise me that it's not well known. Had a limited release in US according to IMDB. Definitely let me know if you find it.