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Max (2002)  rating

Review: written 2020

Disturbing and thought provoking


The premise for this movie is pretty unique, and it’s certainly a bold idea. It dares to suppose the friendship between a provocative young painter, Max Rothschild, and a war-scarred Corporal Hitler, around the end of WW1. This relationship is built on two things, the fact they are both veterans (Max has lost his arm in the conflict) and secondly that they are both artists. Hitler as an artist is by itself a strange and disturbing idea with knowledge of who he is to become, but it is certainly true he is known to have produced hundreds of paintings and would refer to himself as an artist at heart. In conversation with the Ambassador for Great Britain in 1939, he even said he was first and foremost an artist, and once he had resolved “The Polish issue” he would like to retire as an artist. This then, is the Adolf we meet here, and his austere lifestyle and correspondingly staid art is contrasted with the avant garde, modernist and cynical work produced by Max, whose lifestyle is, by contrast with Hitler’s, almost Bohemian. And yet Max holds the potential key to unlocking Hitler as an artist. Will Hitler choose politics, or art?

Of course we know the outcome, but the raison d’etre of the movie seems to be to hint at that road not travelled. To suggest through this relationship, what possibilities and internal conversations Hitler must have wrestled with before developing into the monster we now know him as. Might he have taken another path, venting his anger into art, or was it inevitable that he develop his new found talent of stirring people up in hate filled speeches?


Given how disturbing the idea is to even present Hitler as a human being in a movie, this movie makes a bold and brave attempt at grappling with this issue, and the ending was suitably disturbing and has stayed with me since watching it. It’s not perfect – the peripheral characters, particularly the women in the movie, play an uncertain role, and while the narrative is fresh and interesting, the clunky script can be frustrating – hearing lines like “You’re a hard man to like, Hitler, but I’m going to try” feels so ‘on-the-nose’ that it can jar you out of the building mood of the movie, and make it harder to believe in this odd relationship. Take it as an outward manifestation of Hitlers own turmoil, and it can almost be excused. Almost.

It's really worth a watch, showing a seldom shown time in Germany and giving a glimpse into the culture and mood of the time, and most of all showing the germination of a new evil. John Cusack plays with conviction, Noah Taylor bravely takes on his difficult role as the Corporal. As the movie says, Art does not need to be technically accomplished if it is truthful. In that sense, this movie is a success.

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