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Noble idea, bungled execution
on 6 March 2010
All evil needs... is for Good men to do nothing, says the tagline on the cover of this DVD. The set up is thus tantalising, promising a tale of moral murkiness, a `what if..' situation to challenge the viewer. Alas, it fails to deliver. We meet John Halder, a literature professor in 1930's Germany. A man struggling with a slightly loopy wife, mother with severe dementia, and a country which is burning the books he loves as it slides inexorably deeper into Fascism. As a decent man, how will he react to these circumstances? Well, by keeping the status quo at work, and seeking refuge in the beautiful arms of one of his students, as well as frequent beer drinking sessions with his best buddy, a Jewish psychoanalyst played by Jason Isaacs. The next step down the path of moral murkitude he takes sees him coerced into joining the Nazi party, due to a paper on euthanasia he has written. The stresses this puts on his relationship with his best friend, a Jew, is perhaps the best played segment, with Jason Isaacs probably the best thing in the movie. Of course, events continue to deteriorate and the little choices made at the start begin to have monumental effects on the lives of those around him, until in the end, he is faced with the full horror of what he has done - or rather, what he failed to do. It could all certainly be fascinating, and the period feel of the movie is fine, the acting up to scratch... and yet, Mortensen plays the character in such an ambiguous way, as such a weak man, that by the time he faces the realisation of what he has done - it is not only too late for him to do anything, but too late for us the audience to care much about it. Frankly a movie about the Nazi's treatment of the Jews and other minorities which leaves us not caring, has fundamentally failed in its objective. Oddly, just the idea behind the movie makes you think and ponder more than you do by the time the movie has finished - the movie really adds nothing to the debate, failing for all its attention on the details of his life, to get under the character's skin and thus make the viewer care.
All in all, a movie that fails to live up to its title, despite some interesting ideas and performances. My advice? There are plenty of other movies or novels on the topic out there.. this one, while not bad, is certainly not essential viewing.