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John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Leelee Sobieski. A tangled and emotional what-if" drama about a Jewish German WWI veteran who is running an art gallery and takes a promising painter under his wing-a young Adolf Hitler. 2002/color/108 min/R/widescreen.
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I watched it a second time, and realized how much cinematic excellence I had originally missed. I had made a comment about not seeing a Max Ernst painting on screen during a discussion, but now I see that it was unnecessary and would have been a distraction from the dialog. Also, I had not appreciated the level of set detail, editing and interrupted flow, and how effective the framing was. I now have much more appreciation of the craft that went into my experience of this film.
Now I will say that what really caught my attention was the fact that this is a movie about Adolf Hitler, for the most part, and post World War I Germany. Basically the premise is between the end of World War I and Hitler's rise to power, what if Hitler had returned to realistically pursue his art career rather than go immediately into politics. I have to admit, it's a very interesting and ambitious supposition. To further make this of interest to us the primary encouragement Hitler has to pursue art is an art dealer named Rothman, who also happens to be Jewish. Surely this throws a kink into the character of the anti-Semitic ruler history knows. Again, another ambitious supposition. Unfortunately the movie has some striking weak points and a lot of that had to do with Hitler's character.
First I'll talk about Cusak's character Rothman. It's pretty clear the viewer is supposed to really like this character and also dislike him. Both Rothman and Hitler have this duality in the film. He's an enjoyable and cynical fellow, but his infidelity puts a black mark on his character, so he's not flawless. There's certainly no taking the high road here. I thought this was wonderfully played by Cusak and I think Rothman was the better developed character in the end. This is probably also due to the fact that I didn't have any preconceived notions of who he was prior to going into the film.
As far as Hitler is concerned I think they got his character wrong on many fronts. It was as if Noah Taylor never actually studied anything about the historical Hitler except for a few snippets of what pop-culture has to show us, but there was no depth! I feel I should point out here that I have read "Mein Kampf," I've read "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," and I've read a few speeches given by Hitler. Unfortunately the Hitler that these writings portray is not the one we have in this film. Taylor's Hitler is a very meek man, one who is uncertain of his abilities on every front. However, it is alluded to that he understands a great deal about the political situation of the times and is very well read (this is close to the historical Hitler). In this film you are intended to pity Hitler and I can't help but think that you are supposed to believe that Hitler didn't want to be anti-Semitic. Sure he harbored the beliefs in the film, but due to his friendship with Rothman you are led to believe that he may not have really believed any of it.
However, when one sits down and reads Mein Kampf he truly believed everything. In fact he believed it passionately through and through. In this movie it is the military that urges him to begin speaking in public. However, Taylor doesn't exude the strength the true Hitler had for public speaking. Most of the speeches presented in the movie are far from eloquent or even remotely rational. Having read a couple of speeches that Hitler had given, even early on in 1921, I am confronted with a Hitler that really thought out his position. He was very rational in connecting the dots to his conclusions. Granted they were entirely wrong on many fronts, but it doesn't change the fact that they were very methodical. The speeches Taylor gives in this film are not eloquent in the least, they're not rationally presented and they did nothing to make me feel like I was watching the confident leader of the Third Reich. Most of the speeches consist of saying "We were stabbed in the back" numerous times and in one speech that supposedly swayed the crowd on a major scale concluded with him yelling "Bloodjew" numerous times. I'm sorry, these lines just lacked passion and they were the majority of the "speech". Only in the final speech does he deliver a single sentence that even remotely goes down the path the real Hitler would have, but the movie does not keep that up. Just because Taylor is physically yelling the line does not mean he gives off a feel of passion.
I fully understand what "Max" was trying to do in their portrayal of Hitler. It has the added "what if" scenario in terms of Hitler being primarily influenced by the army to go into public speaking when he really wants to commit to an art career. I realize that art was a major influence in Hitler's life growing up and as he got older. In fact he goes on quite a bit about the importance of art in "Mein Kampf", so you can tell he still had a passion for that subject. The movie ends in a manner that shows no matter what happens history cannot be changed. It's also a film that focuses quite a bit on art concepts, so it is helpful if you're fairly open minded as a viewer. I do consider myself to be fairly open minded, but I just wasn't buying into their portrayal of Hitler. I think Taylor did a good job acting this out, but I don't think he was distinctly trying to be the historical Hitler; this may not have been his decision. He may have been doing what the writers and directors asked. If they asked him to play Hitler in this fashion, then he did it perfectly. Nevertheless, for the historian in me, I couldn't buy into it and it really put an end to the film for me.
I have no doubt that many would consider this kind of movie somewhat controversial and provocative. It does make you think about the different possibilities that exist within any kind of timeline (don't worry; I will avoid the drawn out concepts of parallel universe theory in light of quantum physics). I honestly can't fully recommend the film as a good drama, because it just didn't pan out in a sensible way. It was almost like there were too many "what if" scenarios for me to really get behind the plausibility factor. Maybe if you're a much more forgiving person you can find some real merit in this. I mean, I thought the premise and acting was pretty good, just the overall execution didn't pan out for me in the end.
This may not be very helpful because I can't remember where I bought them.
By the way, they don't pretend the events in "Max" occurred. They're just intriguing ideas.