The movie Max paints a fascinating, yet utterly inaccurate, picture of the development of the twentieth century’s most infamous human being-– Adolf Hitler-– from the end of World War I to the beginning of his rise to power.
The story centers around Hitler’s relationship with Max Rothman, a suave and charming art dealer, always ready with a one-liner, though secretly possessing many problems of his own. The main goal of the film is to highlight Rothman’s rejection of Hitler’s artistic efforts as the catapult that launched Hitler into politics.
Critics have spoken out against Max, accusing the movie of daring to portray Hitler as a sympathetic figure. Contrary to their complaints, however, the movie shows him as a disagreeable, miserable, friendless creature with very few redeeming qualities, and as a mediocre painter at best. It seeks to merely to explain, not to justify, the actions which Hitler took later in life. And even as an attempt at explanation, Max falls short, portraying Hitler’s descent into evil as entirely one-dimensional by refusing to take into account any factors other than his failed professional relationship with Rothman. The upside of the movie’s simple-minded historical musings is the emotional depth that the lack of plot complication facilitates; however, this depth comes at the cost of any real accuracy.
The real intrigue of the movie is derived from its attempt at a portrait of the young Hitler-– non-mustachioed and unassuming. Few films have offered an examination of this stage in Hitler’s life. Max represents a strong effort at piecing together the enigma of his early years.
Though some of the scripting is wonderful, however, the movie as a whole is unconvincing. John Cusack’s pontifications on the nature of art can become excruciating: “I know what it looked like…but what did it feel like.” The movie excels when it shows Max and Hitler interacting, because of the interest that arises from their vastly divergent personalities. It is also successful when it shows Rothman in his natural element, as the silky-art-dealer-cum-charming-businessman. Overall, though, it is only the combination of Rothman’s quips, which provide some measure of comic relief, and the film’s unique point of view that keep Max from wallowing in misery.
Adam Shpigel is a freshman in Saybrook College.