John Cusack, Noah Taylor, ...
Credit: Max: Menno Meyjes
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The only other time John Cusack was this blown away by a script was when he got his hands on ”Being John Malkovich.” But expect a different kind of mind trip from Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Meyjes (”The Color Purple”). In his directing debut, he examines post-WWI Germany and the birth of modern art, while painting a portrait of the artist as a young man. The artist just happens to be Adolf Hitler (Taylor).

Cusack plays Max, a Jewish gallery owner who returns to Munich in 1918 after losing his arm in the war. Hitler, a frustrated painter, starts visiting Max, and the two debate modernism. ”But you?ve got to remember that Hitler was a homeless person,” says Cusack. ”So imagine if I was walking around Venice Beach and somebody had a conversation with me about art and 13 years later he was President of the United States.”

”This is not Hitler the misunderstood artist,” assures Taylor (”Shine”). Indeed, because of skepticism about the movie?s salability, it took two years to cobble together the $11 million budget. ”Someone said, ‘How dare you humanize the man!”’ recalls Cusack. ”What?s far more monstrous is if you realize that Hitler was a human being with a human set of desires. It feels absolutely responsible to present the man as a human being.”

THE LOWDOWN If Cusack pulls off his meaty role, ”Max” might introduce him to Oscar. But there?s steep embarrassment potential if the movie misses.

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  • 108 minutes