Not necessarily taking the route that might have been expected, but definitely not too far removed, “Max” paints a picture of a budding young Adolf Hitler trying to come to terms with his own art under the guidance of a wealthy Jewish art dealer.
John Cusack plays Max Rothman, an artist-turned-dealer after the first World War took his arm, his skill and his self-esteem. Using an old boxcar warehouse as his gallery, he surrounds himself with darkness and cold steel – seemingly unable to function in the world of color that is his home, his family and his life that once was. Using the setting of 1918 Munich, the film slowly adds scenic nuances to help add to the feeling of an escalated anger felt by a dying nation.
From the rubble, starvation and hopelessness emerges Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor, “Almost Famous”). Hitler desperately desires to be an artist, and, by chance, he stumbles upon Max Rothman. The two interplay both comically and dramatically. When Rothman decides to take Hitler on under consignment, their relationship grows despite that fact that one is a Jew and the other an anti-Semite (who claims the term is not appropriate for him).
Rothman states in the film, “It is easier to be a critic than an artist.” Interestingly enough, both he and Hitler are unable to come to terms with themselves post-World War I. Rothman cannot get past the fact that he is now “part man, part doll,” and Hitler is unable to make that difficult transition from mind to canvas, choosing to turn his efforts toward critiquing the social structure of post-war Germany.
Rothman is not Hitler’s only influence in the film. As a member of the German army, Hitler is constantly subjected to the militaristic world that is supplying multitudes of propaganda and anti-Semitism. Hitler’s commanding officer becomes Rothman’s foil as Hitler cannot deny the opportunities given to him to speak publicly about his personal political views.
The set design for “Max” is ingenious, and the contrast between light and dark is in constant motion. In addition, the performances by Cusack and Taylor are both highly memorable, but special adulation must go to Taylor. Playing the role of a young Hitler is one that carries with it an almost endless amount of baggage and responsibility. However, Taylor’s speeches and re-enactments are both hypnotic and terrifying – his ravings and spit-flying words and the incredible transformation that takes place through the course of his character is both astounding and nightmarish.