dir. Meyjes

Opens Fri Jan 24

Cinema 21

Making a sympathetic movie about Adolph Hilter is problematic. Mostly because every time he appears on screen the only thing you think is, "six million Jews... Nazi Nazi Nazi..." However, Max, Menno Meyjes' film starring John Cusack and Noah Taylor, nearly succeeds. Oh--but then it also nearly falls on its ass.

In Max, John Cusack plays the fictional art dealer and World War I vet Max Rothman, whose chance encounter with struggling artist Hitler (Noah Taylor) ends up changing the course of human events (i.e. WW II, the Holocaust, etc). You see, Hitler was an artist, just not a very good one, and Rothman tries to force a voice out of him. Of course, Hitler's voice does emerge--just not in painting, and the effects are felt immediately by the Jewish Rothman.

Playing a pre-megalomaniac Hitler is not an easy task, and Taylor's take is to stomp around like a raving lunatic, shower Cusack in spit, and chew the scenery as if it were hardened bratwurst. Taylor is an incredible actor, just more suited to subtle movies like The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting. His decision to have a German accent is similarly misguided because no one else in the film does, so all throughout you feel that Hitler is talking to a bunch of Americans.

John Cusack just sounds like John Cusack. Which isn't a bad thing, because it turns out that he makes a credible one-armed Jewish art dealer. His character is complex and the scenes with his family are the most interesting parts of the film. In fact, the idea of focusing on a veteran about to be betrayed by his country is a fresh way of looking at German Jews, and it would have been better to omit Hitler entirely. But then, of course, it would be a very different film.

It is possible that Hitler's mediocrity as an artist in some ways fueled his need for power, but the notion that a few pushy people turned him from a provincial artist into... well, you know... is impossible to believe. In fact, the concepts Hitler struggles with in Max are so commonplace among artists, you begin to wonder why more artists don't give up the brush or the pen and just go medieval on their country.

Max merely gets a half-hearted "Heil," at best.