M is for Max

“Politics is the new art.”

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John Cusack plays titular character Max Rothman, a German born Jew, whom in the aftermath of World War 1 has returned to his family missing his right arm. Max, once an aspiring painter and still a lover of art, has refocused his creative juices into the art dealing trade.

The year is 1918. The city is Munich and Max has just come in contact with a young artist by the name of Adolf Hitler. Although Max’s initial instinct towards Hitler is a negative one, he nonetheless sees something special in him and his intense need for success and begins the process of mentorship.

The two spark up an unlikely friendship, mainly due to the fact that they are both war veterans, and Max urges Hitler to find his authentic voice and encourages him to express himself through his art. Hitler, while doing all he can to soak in Max’s advice, struggles to propel himself and his artistic endeavours to the greatness he feels necessary to feel satisfied.

Parallel to his artistic failures is Hitler’s ease in being hypnotised by his fellow veterans of the German Army and their anti-semitic views. Hitler is a young man with a burning passion to bring about change in Germany. After being seduced by money and hope for a better future, the penniless Hitler begins to delve into a dark political world of propaganda and public speaking. Max, having been encouraged by Hitler’s recent artistic intentions must try to help his student choose the right path before it’s too late. Art plus politics equals power!

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Unfortunately, we all know what path Hitler decides to choose. However that is not the question here. The question is “Just how close did Hitler come to being saved?”

Much of what transpires in the movie is surely fictional, nevertheless it is an intriguing and fearless approach at attempting to break down Hitler’s growth and the psychology that helped shape his political madness. Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the rise of Hitler, and in truth this movie isn’t really about that. It’s deeper than that. It’s about the young, eccentric, creative, homeless man – yes man not monster – who simply wants to be recognised and carve some sort of success out of his failed existence.

While I admire the sheer balls of the screenwriter and director to cleverly reach into the realms of history and grab it by the throat, the movie sort of fails for me because in a way it doesn’t define itself correctly. I like Cusack and Noah Taylor (Hitler) but at times their exchanges arouse comedy and it’s hard to take the movie too seriously. Taylor’s accent also wavers a lot throughout which is distracting. Despite that, there are times were he manages to accomplish something very special, notably the public speaking scenes.

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There’s also the added distraction of Max’s mistress Liselore Von Peltz (Leelee Sobieksi) who not only shares a bed with Max but also his love of all things art. I would rather have watched a more telling story of mentor and student than having all the other insignificant characters filling in the minutes. The movie tries to depict Max as a family man, a loving husband and father yet he has a fling with a younger, sexier woman. I just didn’t care.

I’m being relatively harsh on Cusack here, I think he’s a superb actor, but I just couldn’t believe his portrayal, no matter how many times he cooly sparked up a cigarette or turned up his collar. I guess I just always picture him as the funny supporting actor with the witty, whimsical attitude towards everything. I may have seen High Fidelity too many times. Very harsh I know, I’m sorry.

Max is a movie overflowing with potential and perhaps if given a second chance could really go down as an important piece of movie history. Despite some of my negative comments, I can’t deny my intrigue. I wouldn’t say I was immersed but while it was slow and fairly boring at times, I still managed to enjoy it. Weird.

6.5/10

Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter

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