Written and Directed by Menno Meyjes
Starring John Cusak and Noah Taylor
There are some subjects that may be too controversial to film. Max takes one of these on, and does it brilliantly. But the subject matter -- understandably -- angers people. It is a film where one of the characters is Adolph Hitler, and -- worse -- Hitler is not an out-and-out villain.
The movie is based on a wonderful conceit: that Hitler, penniless in Vienna after World War I, actually had some talent as an artist. And Jewish art dealer Max Rothman (you can see why I had to see the film) recognizes this and encourages it.
Max is played by John Cusak, who has made a career of edgy films and characters. He is a World War I veteran, losing an arm in the conflict, and begins to make friends with Hitler (Noah Taylor). It is, to say the least, an unusual relationship. Max actually keeps Hitler grounded, ignoring his rants and acting as a voice of reason against his oncoming madness. He sees Hitler's art, encourages him to do better.
Portraying Hitler -- in any other way than the epitome of evil -- is a difficult proposition. Noah Taylor is excellent in the role. His Hitler does have some good qualities and Max is able to keep his bad qualities in check -- in the beginning. Max does become friends with Hitler (saying, "You're an awfully hard man to like, Hitler, but I'm gonna try.") because Max believes, ultimately, that everyone is worth of respect. Hitler thrives (in a good way) under his tutelage.
The story isn't meant to be history. It sees Hitler's career as a metaphor: politics as an art and way of expression much like painting. Hitler's speeches are theater, and they allow him to break loose and express himself (unfortunately).
Ultimately, the film asks "What if?" and says "If Only." It's wishful thinking (and has a tragic ending), but it's a fascinating way of looking at one of history's greatest villains.