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Max Movie Review

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John Cusack and Noah Taylor star in this little known Adolf Hitler drama called Max. In this interesting fictional tale, Hitler is a young artist looking to make a career of himself, but can his newfound friend Max Rothman, a Jewish art dealer, get him to open up before his hatred turns to politics? Well, obviously not, but Max tells an intriguing story nonetheless.

Cusack is Max Rothman. Now, I think he is a German WWI veteran, but given the fact that Cusack doesn't even attempt a German accent (or any kind of accent), I'm not completely sure. In fact, it took me half the movie to realize that perhaps Cusack wasn't, after all, an American. Of course, his parents have British accents, so who knows what nationality he's supposed to be!

Anyway, regardless of the lack of accent, Cusack turns in his usual good performance as the art teacher that might be the one that could save young Adolf Hitler from a future in politics and world domination. He's smart and witty, but not perfect; he has a taste for cigarettes, and for Leelee Sobieski (who isn't his wife).

On the other end of the spectrum, Taylor does a good if somewhat abstracted job of portraying Hitler. It seems to me that director Menno Meyjes, in fear of actually humanizing someone as hated as Hitler, decided to make the character as physically ugly as possible without looking grotesque, and added in a lisp for good measure. Now, perhaps Hitler did have a lisp (I don't know), but when Hitler spoke, I did not really get the sense that this was the man who would go on to lead Germany into the deadliest war ever seen. In fact, I have no clue how any German could follow the likes of this particular Hitler into a men's bathroom, let alone an attack on Europe. Still, despite the lack of resemblance to the Hitler I expected, Taylor is very good at portraying emotions.

Max is very much a character-driven movie, and obviously focuses on Max and Hitler. The odd couple match up works pretty well and makes for some good conversation, but at times Cusack's overwhelming calmness towards the fact that Hitler is absolutely loopy gets bothersome at times. Hitler can be spouting out anti-Semitic remarks and Max will just be standing there, doing nothing. Aren't they supposed to have some sort of bond?

Again, the thing that bothered me the most was the accents. There are several different accents in the movie, and only a few of them are German. Furthermore, Cusack looks and speaks like an American, not a German Jew. It is very distracting and confusing, and takes a little away from the otherwise good performances.

There also seemed to be some subplots that never were completed. The awkwardness between Max and his wife (Molly Parker), and Max and his mistress (Sobieski) is never resolved in one way or another; why are these characters even in the movie? They do nothing, and it's a real shame.

Max does have its flaws, but at the same time is a compelling drama with an interesting story to tell. Yes, it's fiction, but the movie is meant more to show the political and social tensions in Germany shortly after the first World War, and, just like much of the art featured in the story, is an abstracted look at the reasons why Hitler became what he became, and why the German people followed him nearly without question.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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