December 27, 2002
Just in time for the holidays is this fictionalized tale of Adolf Hitler's more sensitive side. What if the Fuehrer had been interested in art as a young man, but his Jewish art teacher simply failed to encourage his aspirations? Evidently, this is the type of traumatic experience that might drive a man to become a sociopath and lead a nation into war and the Holocaust.
Sounds awful, doesn't it? It very well may be, once it's all said and done, but the level of talent attached is extremely impressive. Max marks the directorial debut of Dutch screenwriter Menno Meyjes, who was nominated for an Academy Award® for The Color Purple (he also worked on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Siege). He directs from his own screenplay. Playing the part of Hitler is the somewhat little-known Noah Taylor, who Cameron Crowe fans will best recognize as Dick, the manager of Stillwater in Almost Famous. His credits also include Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Vanilla Sky and Shine.
Taylor's character is actually secondary to that of the man who plays the teacher, Max Rothman, and that part is played by John Cusack, one of the most talented actors of his generation. Cusack has a penchant for taking on films that are non-mainstream and out-of-the-ordinary, as is evidenced by his roles in Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, High Fidelity, and Cradle Will Rock. He commented to Variety that the script for Max is the best he's read since Being John Malkovich. Considering the pedigree of Malkovich and the solid track record of Meyjes, this obvious Oscar® hopeful is definitely an intriguing project.
Getting into more plot specifics, Max is loosely based on actual known facts about Hitler. After World War I, Hitler developed a love for classical art (though he thoroughly eschewed modern work). Cusack's Rothman is the Jewish art dealer/teacher who attempts to help the young man learn the craft. When Hitler decides his own talent isn't up to par, his obsession turns to hatred of Jews and Germany's political future. Supporting Taylor and Cusack in the film are Leelee Sobieski (Eyes Wide Shut, Joy Ride) and Molly Parker (Men with Brooms, Center of the World).
Though everything about this project pretty clearly screams art house, I imagine it will be the center of quite a bit of controversy due to its very offbeat subject manner and will therefore draw a number of curious viewers. Max will be filmed overseas in Hungary and the Netherlands on a budget of $11.5 million, and distribution will be handled by Lions Gate, which saw both financial and critical success with 2001's Monster's Ball. If the end product is as good as anticipated, I expect the studio to give Max an equally heavy push when it comes time for awards. (Kim Hollis/BOP)