***.5 GM
Starring: John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski, Paul Hipp


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When I first heard about this film and its fictionalized account of a pre-evil Adolf Hitler's vagabond artist years, I was a little skeptical, but also intrigued. The concept of portraying Hitler as a human being and not this colossally villainous monster seemed to be a path fraught with danger, yet valuable to travel. Throw in John Cusack, and you've sold me on seeing your movie.

The result is a bit of a mixed bag, however. The story focuses a bit more on the composite character of Max Rothman (Cusack), a Jewish artist in Germany who lost his right arm in World War I, and has since been unable to sit still or be very happy with himself, despite remaining in the art business by becoming a dealer. He's also picked up an infidelity habit, to boot. He comes across another veteran of the war who's a struggling artist himself (Taylor), so despite having a distaste for the sickly-looking squirrelly man, he takes him under his wing and tries to school him on how to better express himself. Seems the man has great technique but no personal voice or style. They butt heads over ideas and morality and just about everything else, but the little bastard can't seem to express any actual emotion through his art, since he is ideologically opposed to the liberties being taken with the medium beyond true-to-life sketching. Thus, a frustrating conundrum for the charmless prick, until he begins dabbling in politics, which he fares much better at, thus deciding that "politics is the new art."

So, to borrow a line from Eddie Izzard, Hitler's transition was an epiphany during a painting that went something like this: "I.... can't get... the trees... DAMN! I will kill EVERYONE in the WORLD!" Or thereabouts.

Noah Taylor gives an effective, chilling and appropriately creepy performance as the mass-murdering fuckhead before he got around to the mass-murdering and was just a fuckhead. This is a guy that fought in the trenches for his country and came back to absolutely nothing, destitute and forced to live in a home for vets, considering himself a great artist but riddled with secret self-doubt about it, and then finding it impossible to swallow his country taking all the blame for starting the war he served in and bowing to the demands of the rest of the world. His fiery grit and determination would make a compelling rags-to-riches saga if he weren't such a horrible, horrible bastard. Taylor depicts the frustration without sacrificing the psychotic madman's rage.

Cusack also gives a charismatic performance, as usual, as the chain-smoking, restless Max, burning with creative energy but stripped of the ability to channel it through his talent for painting and failing in his attempts to expand into other art forms. His struggle to balance his dissatisfaction with his own lot in life with his optimism about the future makes for an interesting character to watch, but I have to say that he seems a little too John Cusack - although I might just be getting that impression because he makes no attempt at an accent, which conflicts with Taylor's perfect one, and it reminded me far too often that I was watching a movie set in Germany and featuring no American characters, yet being played entirely in English. That's the kind of thing that bothers me when it comes in small doses, so you can imagine it doesn't sit that well when it happens throughout the film. Yes, I know, if English-speakers make the film, they'll want 'em talkin' so's they can understand 'em, and I was able to stop thinking about it most of the time. It just flared up enough to annoy me.

However, as every reviewer who sees this film will say, you have to appreciate a film with the line "Hitler, come on. I'll buy you a glass of lemonade."

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