While everyone can agree that 2002 wasn’t the best year for movies, it was still full of films that somewhat revolutionized the industry. In particular, it was a great year for blockbuster movies.
Fans of every single genre were satisfied, whether it’s an action film like “Minority Report”, a comic book classic such as Spider-Man, a fantasy epic like “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” or science fiction with “Star Wars Episode II”.
The year was astoundingly jam-packed with blockbusters that would make even the most authentic fan of cinema go out and watch them. However, there was a slight hint of mediocrity on the horizon when it came to releases nearing the end of the year. “Max” (2002) wasn’t a bad movie by any means, yet it falls exactly into that category of mediocrity that we’ve come to expect from any picture starring John Cusack.
A Unique Concept
While we may have talked about it way more in the recent age of Generation Z, the concept of the film was quite unique back when it released in 2002. The story follows a young Adolf Hitler, who has a surprisingly good friendship with a Jewish art dealer named Max Rothmann. It’s quite a risky feature as it chooses to explore concepts which hadn’t been explored before, at least not in depth.
The film showcases Hitler’s gross change in nature as a person, as he goes from struggling artist to an extremist leader, with an agenda that he brings to life through his understanding of art. He understands the process of design, art and creativity then goes ahead and uses them to make the Third Reich and their outlook more magnetic to the German people.
The director had a wonderful script in his hands. For the most part, it works decently enough and the message that it wants to showcase goes across nicely enough. Yet you can’t help but feel the amount of wasted potential in this highly interesting story concept.
Director Menno Meyjes didn’t really seem to understand the script, and what kind of film it should’ve been. The funny thing about all of this is the fact that he himself wrote the script, and was the sole person who should have known how to film it to perfection. Perhaps this is where the difference between a visionary writer and a visionary director comes to light.
The main aspect that this film tries to explore is the friendship between Max and Adolf Hitler, yet it manages to botch that aspect entirely. The characters just don’t feel like they have any chemistry with them and the actors feel completely out of place in the roles.
I understand that writing Hitler is not an easy thing to do but this is a highly fictionalized version, and since there were already creative liberties taken, why not go all the way? It is essentially not even Hitler that the actor was playing, yet the writing didn’t manage to encompass any weight in the dialogue. The biggest issue here for me is the fact that the writing is quite decent otherwise, yet when it comes to the two main characters and their interactions, it fails hugely.
Colorless Cinematography That Works
Now we come to the aspects of the film that truly work, in particular the cinematography and the performance given by Noah Taylor as a young Adolf Hitler. Lajos Koltai, the cinematographer managed to do a great job with the amazing production design they were given. The film was shot in Budapest in Hungary, which is just the go-to place for anything period.
“Max” (2002) benefitted from being shot in that cultural hotspot, yet there were still some hiccups. This wasn’t the fault of the production design team though, as the issues were completely with the wardrobe. In particular the clothing and the way the characters styled themselves and their hair, they did not feel very in appropriate for the era depicted in the film.
The cinematography on the other hand, was quite great. The film used some interesting shots to showcase subliminal storytelling which was a unique thing to find in a film as mediocre as this. There was also a fantastic use of colors in the film, while it lacked a lot of vibrancy on the color palette, it made up for it with the occasional variety in moments where there’s a bit more hope in the characters’ lives. The use of colors, such as greys and browns, signified the Great Depression and the moods of the people around the world.
Carried by a Single Performance
When it comes to acting, there wasn’t a single performance that I could say was a game changer. There was nothing in the film that had me captivated since the moment it began. However, that only lasted until Noah Taylor managed to come up on screen.
His portrayal of a broken and confused, young Adolf Hitler is masterfully done. The writing is still quite bad, but he still manages to make the character his own and give him a fictitious personality that you can empathize with as well as grow to despise afterwards. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Third Reich dictator was perhaps the best character in the film.
John Cusack is a disappointment as always when it comes to his performances, the role of Max Rothman is just as boring as every other role he has done in the past 20 years. The one thing I will say is that this man surprises me with the number of films he can make in a year and yet manages to never make a single above average one. Everyone else though, was as unforgettable as it gets. I do not remember even the names of any side characters in the film aside from the two, and for the most part, I’ve even forgotten the actors that were in the film.
In conclusion, Max could have been a film that would have brought a unique outlook to the silver screen. However, as it stands, it is a drastically mediocre film which doesn’t manage to do anything. It’s a film that just drags along until it ends.
There are a few silver linings here though, such as the decent cinematography and the discovery of Noah Taylor as one of the most fantastic actors of the early 2000s. The one thing I will say is that Noah Taylor deserves way better roles that what he gets now in the industry. In the case of John Cusack, I think he should take a break from films, he’s made 12 films from 2013 to 2014, and all of them were nothing but a paycheck.