“You’re an awfully hard man to like, Hitler.” Few serious films could survive a line like that. Max certainly doesn’t. Written by the Oscar-nominated screenwriter Menno Meyjes (The Color Purple), who makes his debut as a director, the film is not a comedy. The young Adolf Hitler, played by Noah Taylor, is not the Führer of Mel Brooks’ The Producers — a Hitler with a song in his heart — but the painter who might have made it if Max Rothman (John Cusack, trying hard to no avail), a Jewish gallery owner in Munich circa 1918, had given him a real shot.
Meyjes clearly saw the fictional Max debating modern art with this homeless Hitler as a chance to reveal the human side of a monster. It’s a big idea, but the film itself is small and shriveled.