Max

Speculative biographies are a risky business, particularly when it comes to a figure of such enormous historical consequence as Adolph Hitler. Writer Menno Meyjes (THE COLOR PURPLE, THE SIEGE) makes his directorial debut with just such a project: a fictionalized imagining of Hitler's life as, in the aftermath of WWI, he attempts to establish himself...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Speculative biographies are a risky business, particularly when it comes to a

figure of such enormous historical consequence as Adolph Hitler. Writer Menno

Meyjes (THE COLOR PURPLE, THE SIEGE) makes his directorial debut with just

such a project: a fictionalized imagining of Hitler's life as, in the

aftermath of WWI, he attempts to establish himself as a painter while

refining the ideas that would later infect a nation. Were the two related?

Munich, 1918. Germany's humiliating defeat in the Great War has stirred deep

discontent among the populace, at the same time it excites new currents in

modern art. Artists such as George Grosz (Kevin McKidd) are bringing the

brutal truths of the battlefield to bear on the everyday horror of modern

life, and forward thinking Jewish dealers, like the wholly fictitious Max

Rothman (John Cusack), are bringing these new works to the people. It's

shortly after an opening at Rothman's gallery that he first encounters the

30-year-old Hitler (Noah Taylor), a hollow-eyed veteran who's been skulking

around Munich with his portfolio of postcard paintings tucked under the

tattered arm of his Army issue coat. The penniless, would-be artist has been

bunking with his garrison, which has become a festering hotbed of wounded

nationalistic pride and virulent anti-Semitism. Most of Rothman's circle find

Hitler repellent, but the dealer is sympathetic to his fellow soldier —

Rothman himself is a frustrated artist who lost an arm on the battlefield

— and he encourages Hitler to break through his parochial ideas about

art and tap into what's deep inside. Ironically, Hitler's army captain

(Ulrich Thomsen) is encouraging him to do the same, but for a far darker

purpose: He sees in

Hitler the blazing eyes and rabid mouth of a fanatic, and urges him to

unleash his inner anti-Semite to become the spokesperson for a frightening

new future. Meyjes's received a firestorm of prerelease criticism from

critics who feel it's somehow indecent to treat Hitler as a human being with

a past, as if it's easier to cope with inhuman monsters who sprang fully

formed from some mythic darkness than with monstrous men. That's nonsense.

But what does make the film disturbing is the way in which it positions

Hitler as a mere mouthpiece for what was already in the air, a role he was

convinced to play after suffering one disappointment too many at the hands of

Jews like Rothman. If only Adolph had been encouraged to paint his pictures,

the film comes dangerously close to suggesting, 10 million

might not have died.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Speculative biographies are a risky business, particularly when it comes to a figure of such enormous historical consequence as Adolph Hitler. Writer Menno Meyjes (THE COLOR PURPLE, THE SIEGE) makes his directorial debut with just such a project: a f… (more)

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