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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Max

Starring: John Cusack, Noah Taylor
Director: Menno Meyjes
Rated: R
RunTime: 106 Minutes
Release Date: December 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Leelee Sobieski, Paul Hipp, Molly Parker, Ulrich Thomsen

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

MAX, by writer and director Menno Meyjes, who was nominated for an Oscar for THE COLOR PURPLE's script, is an unusual and controversial tale that had groups protesting it before they had ever seen it. The story of Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor) as a young man, the movie dares to suggest that he was actually human. John Cusack plays Max Rothman, a Jewish art dealer who befriends Hitler, a struggling artist. The film, which is never easy to embrace, manages to be fascinating and tedious at the same time. Setting a serious tone, Meyjes seems most worried that people will call the film entertaining, which means that Cusack's gift for comedy is wasted, save for a few sarcastic asides.

When we meet Corporal Hitler, the "war to end all wars" is just coming to a conclusion, with the armistice saddling Germany with enormous and widely resented reparations. Believing he has a career in front of him as an artist, Hitler goes to Max to show off his samples. Since Max is fond of abstractionism, and since Hitler is a firm believer in realism, they would seem to have little in common. Max, however, is a big-hearted guy who ignores their differences. When Hitler finally rises to the height of his limited artistic abilities with a series of Nazi-like drawings, Max goes wild over them, calling them "future kitsch."

Hitler, a nervous, self-conscious guy with a burning rage just below the surface, has more interests than art. His company commander, Captain Mayr (Ulrich Thomsen) suggests that Hitler has a future in propaganda, which is surprising since Hitler's early public speaking attempts are truly awful. But when speaking on something he believes about passionately, like the role of Jews in Germany, he finds hidden rhetorical reserves deep within his soul. Early on in the story, Hitler comes out against anti-Semitism. He explains that what he is firmly against is personal anti-Semitism, since that should be a role reserved for the state.

The script is consistently better than the movie itself. "War is vitality," Captain Mayr, lectures his troops on the need for a sequel to World War I. "War is the hygiene of the world." Hitler takes this to heart when he eventually abandons the canvas in favor of the swastika.

"That was a miscalculation of rare magnitude, don't you think?" Max remarks at one point. Don't be surprised if you find yourself thinking those exact thoughts sometime about the movie. But the rare opportunity to have a glimpse of Hitler in his formative years makes the film well worth viewing.

MAX runs 1:46. It is rated R for "language" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.

Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes

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