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Max (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's audio commentary; Theatrical trailer; Picture gallery; Scene access; Interactive menu.

ADOLF Hitler has been portrayed as many things on film - a tyrant, mass murderer, evil personified - but seldom, if ever, as a frustrated artist with a sensitive side. Yet this is the intriguing premise of Max, a provocative, yet intelligent, historical fable.

Set in Munich in 1918, as Germany reels from the effects of World War One, the film finds John Cusack’s art dealer, Max Rothman, opening up an acclaimed art gallery and befriending a fellow war veteran, Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor), who seems hopelessly caught up in the blurred debate surrounding art, politics, and personal beliefs.

For Rothman, a German Jew who lost his right arm in the Trenches, Hitler represents an intriguing, but often frustrating, talent, but the two frequently clash over their views, forcing Hitler to transfer his creative talents to politics, where he can finally find an outlet for his raw beliefs.

Caught up in this post-War struggle to reclaim a nation’s identity are Max’s beautiful wife, played by Molly Parker, and two children, as well as Max’s alluring mistress (Leelee Sobieski).

Directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Menno Meyjes, Max dares to pose a ‘what if’ scenario that is likely to provoke the wrath of the narrow-minded, but which remains a compelling and deeply memorable movie for those who like to be challenged.

For while the character of Max may never have existed, he is representative of many things - a witness to history, a savage wit, adoring husband, philandering lover, a passionate intellect, forward thinker, outrageous optimist and unabashed realist, not afraid to speak out against and challenge modern thinking.

Hence, his relationship with Hitler is a frequently volatile one, borne out of a begrudging respect for each other’s talents, and their harrowing experiences in the Trenches.

As Meyjes states, Max Rothman was created to exist in a state of timelessness - to look, sound and feel as if he could exist just as easily in the 21st Century, as if his idealism and energy could be part of today’s culture.

As personified by the charismatic Cusack, who practically chain-smokes his way through every scene, Rothman is a mesmerising presence, a free thinker capable of provoking intelligent debate with whoever he shares company, while challenging one of the most dangerous figures of modern history to express his emotions through the medium of art, rather than politics.

Taylor, too, excels as the young Hitler, who manages to walk a fine line between sympathy and madness - a man desperate to pursue a lifelong artistic passion, but who finds himself ruthlessly manoeuvred along the path he will ultimately take.

And while many people will criticise the film for daring to portray Hitler as anything other than what he eventually became (it was accused of being anti-Semitic in America), it is worth remembering that Hitler was, once, serious about becoming an artist, having applied to the Vienna Art Academy when he was just 18.

An exhibition of Hitler’s paintings, entitled Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics and Hitler’s Early Years in Vienna 1906-1913, was even shown at Williams College Museum of Art last year, drawing both controversy and acclaim for the curator’s courage and the show’s relevance to contemporary discussions on the intersection of art and politics.

The debate surrounding that exhibition is likely to be mirrored by the one which will undoubtedly envelope this film, but it is surely one worth taking part in.

Meyjes avoids the temptation to be sensational for the sake of it and coaxes some terrific performances from a noteworthy cast. As a result, he has delivered a deeply unsettling, defiantly humorous and, ultimately, extremely powerful cinematic experience that really ought to be seen.

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