Wildly counterfactual and historically lazy, this British made-for-TV biopic purports to cover the life of the German dictator from his birth in 1889 to his emergence as Germany's absolute ruler in 1934. Despite the over-the-top title, Hitler: The Rise of Evil actually makes Adolf Hitler seem less evil than insane, portraying his steady, methodically documented rise to power as the chance ascension of a mere madman on the shoulders of a people too stupid or afraid to disobey orders to do anything to stop him.
The two-part series starts in Hitler's hometown of Linz, Austria, where his overbearing, abusive father (Ian Hogg) and meek, devoted mother (Stockard Channing) are quickly dispensed with—the father by a heart attack, the mother by breast cancer. Soon, with almost no explanation for why Germany is at war in the first place (the battle-mad Germans are portrayed as a single, hysterically screaming mass), Hitler (Robert Carlyle) is at the front.
From the beginning, the film discards the historical facts of Hitler's life in order to make him seem unbalanced, sadistic, and a little pathetic—he staggers out of art class, never to return (in fact, he passed the first part of his entrance exam to art school in Vienna); he is shown savagely beating his dog (by all accounts, he loved animals more than people, and was a vegetarian); and the entire Nazi ideology, insane and bloodthirsty though it was, is reduced to a single-minded hatred for a single group: the Jews.
And not a very well-expressed hatred, at that: In one speech, Hitler opines (in a thick British accent), "That's the problem nowadays, isn't it? No one listens. That's why we're facing extinction"—to raucous applause. If that was really as rousing as Nazi rhetoric got, Hitler's rise to power would have fizzled in 1923. This film portrays that rise as a period of collective, utterly inexplicable insanity. At one point, a character mutters, "He's not human." But he was human—a monstrous human—and Germany put him in power anyway. A film exploring the reasons for his rise might have been worth 186 minutes.
Also out this week: 28 Weeks Later (20th Century Fox, $29.99), Black Sheep (Weinstein, $24.95), Man Push Cart (Koch Lorber, $26.98), American Silent Horror Collection (Kino, $49.95), Mala Noche (Criterion, $29.95), Poltergeist 25th Anniversary Edition (Warner Home Video, $19.98).