An artistic Adolf
By Jon Popick

A caged bid can only sing so long. Man, this caption is so cliché.

Let's clear up a couple of misconceptions about Menno Meyjes' Max. For starters, the film is only a fictional look at a pre-moustachioed Adolph Hitler's attempts to become an artist. It doesn't glorify the German madman, nor does it try to humanize any of the horrible things he did. It doesn't rationalize his hatred of Jews, nor does it offer any excuses for why he killed so many of them. In fact, a few of you may have noticed the title of Max is actually Max-not Adolph.

Max is instead about Max Rothman, a fictional composite of a bunch of non-fictional Munich art dealers in post World War I Germany. Rothman (John Cusack, Serendipity) is a Jewish veteran of that first World War who managed to leave one of his arms back on the battlefield. Luckily for Rothman, he returns home from the conflict into the warm, loving arms of his filthy-rich kin, and proceeds to use his share of the family fortune to hobnob with the social elite of Munich, especially those interested in modern art. Rothman even has his own gallery of sorts in giant leaky warehouse (hey, this is post-war Munich).

On the flipside of returning WWI vets is one Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor, Vanilla Sky), who has neither money nor warm, loving arms to comfort him upon returning to Munich after the Treaty of Versailles. Said treaty made Hitler, like it did a lot of Germans, a bitter, increasingly agitated young man. Well, that and the fact he had to remain in the German army because that was the only way he could afford to stay alive. While Rothman slept in a huge home, Hitler had to bunk up with a bunch of smelly men in dingy army barracks.

But that's too much about Hitler. The movie is called Max, remember? Writer-director Meyjes' interesting premise is this: What if Hitler, who dabbled in art before he became the Dictator From Hell, was just a regular old struggling artist who had his work belittled by a Jewish art dealer? Could that have pushed him over the edge? It's a rhetorical question, because Max is a fictional film that makes the Rothman theory the scapegoat for six million deaths. Or does it? The film's last scene, which is likely to give you chills, offers a twist that will have you chasing your tail in a chicken vs. egg debate kind of way.

Rothman and Hitler don't hit it off in Max, just on the basis of their art preferences. After meeting accidentally, Hitler pesters Rothman to give him his own art show, but Rothman keeps trying to get Hitler to try different things. Meanwhile, a chance offering to take a course in public speaking, coupled with Rothman's reluctance to exhibit his work, slowly starts to show the genesis of the Hitler we all know know, actually. There's a bunch of other stuff revolving around Rothman's family and friends, was really unnecessary, but, again, the name of the movie is Max. Still, it's rather jarring to see a movie, which contains the patronizing line, "Hitler! C'mon, let me buy you a glass of lemonade."

If you're not into hearing disconcertingly prophetic/darkly comedic one-liners about Hitler's future, Max might not be the movie for you. Meyjes' directorial debut (he penned scripts for The Siege and The Color Purple) is certainly an interesting "What if?" story, though. And Taylor's performance is one that I hope people will remember when it's time to give out those year-end awards