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