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WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
At a certain point while watching Menno Meyjes's interesting but fatally flawed Adolf Hitler biopic Max, you will crack a smile, and then you will shake your head, and then you will find your attention wandering, and then you will laugh and just give up. Max is a film that asks you to believe that Hitler might not have ultimately become the world's most savage and prolific murderer had his art teacher only been on time for a meeting. It's a film that re-imagines Hitler's post-WWI life as a madly remarkable series of ironies and coincidences and accidents. How else might you explain his ascendancy to monstrousness? Of course Hitler became a fervently heralded spokesperson for the National Socialist Workers Party simply because a scheduled speaker had a cold!
Max is ostensibly the story of wealthy, one-armed, Jewish art gallery owner Max Rothman (John Cusack)—but make no mistake, this is Hitler's story. A veteran of the war, Max lives a life of decadence with a gorgeous wife (Molly Parker), gorgeous mistress (Leelee Sobieski), and gorgeous, loving children in a gorgeous home. But he's all introspective and troubled and melancholy because of the loss of his right arm in the war. When he meets young, troubled Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor), he discovers a strange kinship with this frenzied little man, and finds himself—despite their wild difference of political opinion—wanting to befriend and help Hitler artistically. If only Max could channel Hitler's inner rage into art, and maybe get him laid, surely Max could urge Hitler away from the inevitable path of Jewish holocaust.
The film's premise is definitely fascinating, but the end result is fatally hamstrung by its writing. What are we to make of German soldiers too-ironically dismissing Hitler as "a nothing." Or Hitler declaring, "I don't believe in anti-Semitism"? Or Hitler attending a propaganda class? Or Hitler struggling before a blank canvas and finally jotting down in his notebook, "Art + Politics = Power"? Or Hitler looking sadly at a flock of caged birds and commenting about the inherent inhumanity. Oh, how ironic! The film asks you to believe that all of the shaping of Hitler's evil character occurred within the span of a couple months. By the time the Aryan puppet show takes place, or the obvious Nietzche Superman reference occurs, you'll either be laughing or crying.
The performers do what they can with the material. Cusack is fine as Max, although Lloyd Dobler shines through a bit too often. Taylor rises to the occasion as Hitler, giving a performance that is full of insecurity and rage. Parker is luminescent, but Sobieski is just there.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Lions Gate presents Max in an adequate anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Detail is not particularly striking, as the transfer appears soft, especially the backgrounds. Colors are—perhaps intentionally—washed out. Black levels aren't very deep, adding to the drabness of the image. Fleshtones are pale. I noticed some artifacting in the form of shimmering, but I noticed only the slightest hint of edge halos.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 track is nicely tight and enveloping. Dialog is accurate and clear, and the surrounds get a thorough ambient workout, thriving with sounds such as factory noise, breaking glass, washing machines, bar sounds, and whispered voices. At one point, the soundtrack features some shocking gunshots that are tight and loud and will make you proud of the full range of your system. Nicely done!
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The disc includes a few enticing extras, foremost of which is a Feature Commentary with Director/Writer Menno Meyjes. I enjoyed listening to this fellow talk about the making of Max, his first film. He has interesting things to say about the story, about which he is passionate, but he focuses his discussion mainly on a scene-by-scene breakdown of casting choices, regrets about looping, and how his actors accomplished minor and major moments. He seems delighted by the craft of acting and how individual actors (particularly Cusack) can enrich a given role. He's a bit dry, but worth listening to.
Finally, you get a series of extremely short Interviews with John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski, Menno Meyjes, and producer Andras Hamori. Each has a few 30-second to 60-second snippets, in which they talk about Hitler, their approach to the story, and their experiences on set.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
You'll be more fascinated by the premise than the execution. Although the disc's presentation of the film is pretty good, and the supplements are okay, Max offers too many easy answers to one of the most difficult questions ever posed.