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Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914-1918
by Roger Chickering

. "Max"

John Cusack is at it again, providing us mind-bending polemic for our intellectual delectation. Or is it that a lot of the movies he makes come off that way? "High Fidelity", "Grosse Point Blanke" come to mind. One gets the impression that if he couldn't get this film made he would have brought it to the theater and done it with one other actor to portray the young Hitler. That's just a supposition, of course, but, then, so is this movie.

We're asked to suppose that this offers a portrayal that might represent the character and likeness of Hitler after World War I while, it is purported, he was a struggling artist. It is, in other words, a myth, a complete fabrication and one, I suspect, that no one would have missed in its absence... except for Mr. Cusack and company, of course.

In the absence of any historical record, then, imagine with the filmmakers what Hitler might have been like before he became leader of a vicious throng of hate-mongerers. Was he a skilled draftsman struggling with his art, as "Max" would have us believe? Might he have had a difficult relationship with gallery owner Max Rothman who was willing to try and sell his work? Did such an aesthete as a gallery owner see artistic potential in Hitler's drawings? And did Hitler, when he wasn't struggling with his artistic output and while in the employ of the post-war German army, turn into a raving political rabble-rouser? One suspects that the way these possibilities are balanced has it all wrong, but why let the absence of fact lead us to anything but what the filmmakers want to suggest?

In this offering, Max Rothman (John Cusack) is the blindly sympathetic, overanalytical rich maven who is absorbed in dialectic about art, very dedicated to his gallery and the modern movements in art at the time, mildly dedicated to Liselore Von Peltz, his lover (a radiant, sexy Leelee Sobieski), somewhat coldly interested in Nina (Molly Parker) his beautiful and adoring wife, and far too interested in this failure of an artist, Adolph Hitler (Noah Taylor), who comes to Rothman's gallery with his portfolio in hand and gamesmanship in mind.

One thing Cusack is not, is inhabiting anyone's skin but his own. It is contrived and what he and his fellow filmmakers consider a fun time. Audiences might not.

There is no need to, for one minute, think that there's anything accurate about this portrayal of Hitler. Or about a Jewish patron of his artistic product. If one were to take these notions seriously, they would immediately become suspect. Fuggedaboudit.

If you liked "Waking Life", "Max" might be worth the price of a theatre seat to you. You obviously have a taste for arbitrary disputation and wrangling ideas. Cusack, Taylor and writer-director Menno Meyjes ("The Siege", "The Color Purple") will put you in argument mode for 106 power-seeking word-smithing minutes.

Me? Hate to be so blunt and corny, but I'm maxed out.

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Noah Taylor as the young Adolph Hitler

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