review for Max on AllMovie

Max (2002)
by Josh Ralske review

A film that fictionalizes young Adolf Hitler's (Noah Taylor) life as a struggling artist is bound to be troubling in some respects, and writer-director Menno Meyjes must have known that his audacious, impossible yet compelling Max would be a controversial film. The film was protested by one Jewish group, sight unseen, simply for attempting to humanize the young Hitler, which Meyjes does, thanks in large part to a phenomenal performance by Noah Taylor (who played the college-age David Helfgott in Shine). But part of the film's conceit is its crucial acknowledgement that Hitler did not spring fully formed from some other dimension. However monstrous his actions, he was a human being, making him all the more disturbing an historical figure. Taylor plays the young man, traumatized by his experiences in World War I, as a petulant, perpetually aggrieved, and socially inept loser. But Taylor still manages, incredibly, to evoke sympathy. We understand why the fictional title character, a hip Jewish art dealer named Max Rothman (John Cusack), pities the young man and takes him under his wing, and it's also clear why Rothman, realizing Hitler's blunt, raging, and deadly power as an anti-Semitic political speaker, encourages him to abandon politics to further pursue his painting. Meanwhile, a German army officer (Ulrich Thomsen) sees Hitler's potential as a propagandist. In the film's overweening irony, Hitler "digs deep," as urged by Rothman, and manages to combine both interests, creating a futurist, fascistic vision that merges Germany's future with its past. Max is a well made and fascinating, deeply flawed, and troubling film that sets its goals impossibly high and is forced to settle for irony, sometimes cheap, and sometimes as profound as that of Greek tragedy.