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cast: John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Molly Parker, Janet Suzman, and Leelee Sobieski

director: Menno Mayjes

106 minutes (15) 2003 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Pathé DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to rent on video or DVD

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Max Rothman is a sophisticated, well-off German Jew, and a veteran of the Great War, his injuries ended his career as a painter, so now he's an art dealer. Cynical and haunted, he's looking for a new art that reflects what he saw in the trenches. When he meets a penniless young officer with a portfolio, he thinks he might have found an authentic new voice. Certainly this repressed, obsessive little man is bottling up real anger and passion, which his fellow officers try to divert into politics. Whether he embraces political art, or turns politics into a performance art, will change the face of Europe - for his name is Adolf Hitler...
   This must have been a project fraught with dangers, artistic and ethical. On the one hand, there are those who will object to any portrayal of Hitler as a real human being, rather than a monster; on the other, isn't there something inherently silly about an urbane John Cusack inviting the 20th century's most murderous dictator out for a glass of lemonade?
   That said, Max is a surprisingly successful film. Leisurely and beautifully shot, it uses the fictitious Rothman as a sounding board for the young Hitler - an angry man in search of a cause, who finds it in magnifying the anti-Semitism and simmering class war already present in a defeated, resentful Germany. Noah Taylor's Hitler, a nagging, self obsessed neurotic who thinks talking about blood purity is the way to chat up girls, is certainly not likeable, but he is recognisably a human being. It's Cusack's flawed, oddly idealistic Max who holds the film together.
   Writer-director Meyjes has created a convincing exploration of this volatile, conflicted society. But in the end, Max has to stand up as a piece of fiction, not just a history lesson. There are times when you feel the dialogue is a little contrived, or the relationship has been shaped to make a point rather than allowed to evolve naturally. But in the end, it's just possible to set aside the historical importance of what you're seeing and enjoy it as a story of two very different men who almost connect as friends, but end up changing one another's lives for ever.
   DVD extras are minimal. Meyjes contributes a rather sparse commentary that's good on the visual design; there's a trailer, and a gallery that really is a gallery - images of the paintings seen in the film.

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