Max (2002)
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Review Date: November 22, 2002
Director: Menno Meyjes
Writer: Menno Meyjes
Producers: Andras Hamori
John Cusack as Max Rothman
Noah Taylor as Adolf Hitler
Molly Parker as Nina Rothman
Future madman Adolf Hitler used to be a struggling painter? You bet! According to this (mostly fictionalized) tale, the young Hitler was quite the artist, but hadn't yet found his "voice" during his earlier years, and hung out with a high-brow Jewish art dealer in order to sell some of his stuff and learn more about the craft and himself. This movie details the relationship between the two men and Hitler's eventual attraction to something a little more...sinister and ambitious.
They should have called this film "Hitler: The Early Years" instead of the very boring MAX, but no matter, the movie still delivers a unique (yet hypothesized) tale of Adolf Hitler's budding days as a struggling artist, with a powerful performance by Noah Taylor as the son of a bitch himself, leading the way. It does take some time to get going though and despite its uneven emphases at times, its gripping final half hour does present a greater understanding of one madman's origins. I do remember looking at the clock and noting how not much had really "happened" up until the one hour mark though, other than the showcasing of a neurotic artist trying to find his own voice among the deep-rooted anger and frustration building up inside of him (then again, I guess that, in itself, is something!). And it's no ordinary artist either...this is the asshole who went on to lead the Nazi party in Germany. The film also focuses on a Jewish art dealer named Max, played serviceably by John Cusack, but his plight isn't all that interesting. In fact, I found this inequality in personalities to be one of the film's main drawbacks. On the one hand, we have this extremely tormented human being, a man who commands the screen whenever he crosses it and who ultimately gives you much insight into his eventual path, while on the other hand, we get to hang out with a rich, uppity art dealer, who certainly creates a dynamic relationship with Hitler, but for whom I really didn't care, especially in terms of his relationships with the ladies around him. His wife, played by Molly Parker, and his mistress, played soullessly by the miscast Leelee Sobieski, had almost zero chemistry or depth in their respective roles and only seemed to take time away from the man whose story was infinitely more engaging than all of the others combined: Hitler.

The film's second half did concentrate more on Hitler's development and unconventional relationship with the Jewish art dealer though, with the final denouement, which includes a rousing speech given by the jerk before a room full of wanting Germans, shedding light onto the embryonic cracklings of what eventually turned into one of the most reprehensible political movements of all time. The film also looked nice, had a decent score and the directing, which was a little heavy-handed and obvious at times, did manage to convey the subtext beneath some of its credible dialogue (writer/director Meyjes was nominated for an Oscar for penning Spielberg's THE COLOR PURPLE). And despite not being a "funny" movie per se, it did have a couple of lines that took me aback such as "Hitler, c'mon...let me buy you some lemonade" and "You're a bit lazy, Hitler." Bizarre. But in the end, despite offering solid performances, specifically Taylor's, who should be recalled for the end of the year awards, an out of the ordinary tale about the maturing years of a human being who ultimately turned into a monster, the film stretched some its scenes past their due time, spent too much energy on Cusack's character and his life, and started way too slowly for my taste. But if you're an artist yourself, if you're interested in knowing more about how Hitler developed some of his sick attitudes or simply want to see a picture that offers a story unlike many others (the connection between art and politics?), you will likely enjoy this art-house selection, despite some of its inherent flaws.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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