Joe and Max (2002 TV Movie)
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One thing though-Max Schmeling was an ex-world heavyweight champion before he fought Joe Lewis and I don't believe that was mentioned in the movie. The part when Max saved the Jewish family from the Nazis was fairly accurate, as was the fact that Max did much better than Joe after their boxing careers ended.
Joe & Max apparently is a made-for-TV movie, with a low budget and then unpretentious. Perhaps it's so, but does money really matter so much ? I think no. Boxers Joe Louis and Max Schmeling were friends beyond the politics, the obtuse ideologies and war; but rivals just on the ring. The fighting scenes were shot with a look to the old footages, in black and white, gifting a credible appearance to the whole action parts. Interesting the relation between Max and his wife, their spirit of sacrifice against government, racism and the dirty propaganda elevating Joe as Nazism's pride.
The stage designing is a little too simple, so the city looks a bit fake, but it's not a damage. An enjoyable mix of sport drama and history inside an "impossible" friendship.
By the way, it's a minor thing but I thought the matte paintings used in the film were really poor. They simply looked like paintings--and my daughter noticed this as well. Also, after Louis lost the first match against Schmeling, it appeared in the film as if Louis was then given a chance at the title (an odd thing considering the loss). Well, this was not the case, as Louis fought eight more fights before the title match.
So the basis for an interesting movie was there. The problem was in the implementation.
The film seemed badly paced and choppy. Many of the scenes seemed to me needlessly drawn out, with the camera sometimes lingering on objects, such as a railroad train for no reason that I can think of. The parts of the film I liked best are the scenes in with Schmelling (Til Schweiger) and his actress wife (Peta Wilson) in Germany.
As was noted in another comment, the actors looked nothing like the well known people they were portraying. Although not stated in the IMDb cast listing, it looked to me that different actors were used for the younger and older Joe Lewis, with neither resembling the real Joe Lewis nor even each other. Rocky Marciano, a short fireplug of a fighter with a battered face he got wading into his taller, longer armed opponents that often made him look more like the loser than the winner of his fights, was played by a tall unmarked fighter. The musical score does nothing to aid the movie.
Probably the best aspect of the movie, at least for me, was the way it handled the issues of race and in Schmeling's case, the propaganda value of a German upholding the concept of the Master Race. To his credit, Schmeling defied the Nazi regime as ably as he could, and had he been a mediocre athlete, probably would have suffered a meteoric fall from the public eye. The German champ defied Hitler and Goebels by remaining loyal to his Jewish manager, and on the flip side, Joe Jacobs (David Paymer) had to endure accusations of being a traitor to the American cause during the run up to World War II.
As for Louis, the film barely scratched the surface of his life and career, but then again, the focus was on the rivalry between two accomplished athletes. Even so, the real life Joe Louis was a notorious womanizer, something that was barely hinted at when his wife Marva (Siena Goines) confronted one of her husband's girlfriends. Often in these sports biopics, sensationalism runs just the opposite, as in 1992's "The Babe" on the career of Babe Ruth starring John Goodman.
In my review of the 1953 film "The Joe Louis Story", I voiced the opinion that a modern day treatment of the former champion, if done right, could be a sensational film. Unfortunately this one misses the mark with some eclectic casting and a look that's just a bit too flashy and modern looking in it's representation of the 1930's. Nevertheless it's a watchable story and a fairly good springboard to the careers of Louis and Schmeling for anyone interested in digging deeper.
The problem with message films like this is that they need a little more than that to retain the viewer's interest. Things like character development, sex or good scenery. Joe and Max has none of these things, so it's a matter of preaching the message of brotherhood to those who already believe in that, else they wouldn't be watching the picture in the first place.
Everybody in the film seems to be earnestly acting their hearts out, and I must say the guy who plays Hitler is great: his Hitler is really creepy and scary-looking.
All in all, it's not a bad film, but maybe you could spend your time doing something more worthwhile than watching Joe and Max bonding with one another.
The movie fails to deliver. Acting is mediocre, the lines are not compelling; I kept waiting for the movie to "get going", but it never did. The story is historically interesting, but dry in presentation.
The music helps the story portrayed here, and the actors realize their place in history. Both men are solid citizens above and beyond their occupations and nationalities.
I particularly liked the scene in which Max comes to the south side of Chicago when searching for Joe. They find each other, and the dialog is excellent.