A review of “Max” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: R for violence, language, adult themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes



Before Adolph Hitler turned power-hungry racist-monger of the Third Reich, he was a gentle, disillusioned soldier who yearned to be an artist.  Menno Meyjes’ abstract portrayal of the man-who-would-be-tyrant, and his uneasy friendship with a wealthy Jewish art dealer, is engagingly prepossessing but slightly rough around the edges.

While schlepping his amateurish sketches around Munich circa 1918, a young Hitler (a scrawny Noah Taylor) comes into contact with savvy art dealer Max Rothman (John Cusack), whose love of home, family, and his beautiful mistress overshadows his suspicions of the burgeoning anti-Semitic rhetoric worming its way into the German sensibility. Despite the demands of his lavish lifestyle and a myriad of cultured friends to keep him company, Max takes a liking to the funny little fighting man whose passion outweighs his talent a hundred-fold.

The contradictions of post-WWI Germany are ripe with potential danger.  Aryan rage vs. Jewish erudition. Provincial German aesthetics vs. the blunt force of Weimar modernism (a la the works of Paul Klee, Max Ernst, etc.). Not to mention the chameleon-ish subtext of art, class, and politics.  “Max” does not attempt to resolve these contradictions.  Rather, it lays them on the table for dissection and analysis while its players slowly (a little too slowly) maneuver towards their ultimate fates. 

Taylor masters (with chilling accuracy) the nondescript gentleman who subtly blossoms under the tutelage of the latest and greatest military propaganda.  Cusack, in a huge departure from his traditionally quirky roles, attempts to bring a depth to Max that is unfortunately never fully plumbed. “Max” is wondrously stylish, but the script doesn’t fare well, hinting broadly at future atrocities by painting Hitler as just plain folk whose artistic frustration takes an evil left turn.