Hitler: The Rise of Evil [2003]

Had the many folks who were outraged by the very existence of Hitler: The Rise of Evil seen it before it was aired by CBS-TV in 2003, they would have realized that their fears that this three-hour miniseries would somehow paint a sympathetic portrait of the man generally regarded as the 20th Century's most irredeemable monster were unfounded. There's very little shading here. By and large, this Adolf Hitler is a wicked, vengeful, paranoid, anti-Semitic lunatic pretty much from the get-go; indeed, the opening credits aren't even over before he is revealed as an angry boy who was beaten and belittled by his father and smothered by his mother, an aspiring artist embittered by repeated rejections of his work, and an impressionable young man who was convinced that Jews were the root of all that's wrong with the world. And that's all before the role is assumed by Robert Carlyle, who dominates the proceedings thereafter with a commanding, convincing performance. Hitler: The Rise of Evil chronicles the major events leading up to his assumption of power in the mid-1930s, including his time in the trenches in World War I and fury at Germany's signing of the Treaty of Versailles; his gradual emergence as a charismatic and powerful orator and eventual dominance of the National Socialist party; his first attempted takeover of the government, which resulted in failure (and a brief stay in prison, where he wrote Mein Kampf); and his eventual emergence as the all-powerful Fuhrer who devised the Final Solution and led his country into a disastrous war (the film ends in '34, several years before World War II began). It all feels true to life, if sometimes overly dramatic (the scenes in which he perfects his moustache, practices his various poses and gestures, and adopts the swastika as his symbol are like something out of the first Spider-man movie). And while various other characters, friend and foe alike, occasionally share the spotlight (the cast also includes Matthew Modine, Liev Schreiber, Julianna Margulies, Jena Malone, and Peter O'Toole), it's all about Hitler, and this handsomely-mounted miniseries, directed by Christian Duguay, is at the very least a compelling, eminently watchable effort to capture the inexplicable. Weighing in at a hefty 200-plus minutes, the bonus features (included on a second disc) are longer than the miniseries itself. They consist of Hitler: a Career, an informative 1977 documentary with ample file footage of the real Fuhrer (as good as Carlyle is, there's no way any actor can fully portray how truly scary the guy was), and Hitler and I: Reflections of Evil, an unusually thoughtful "making of" doc by David Cherniack that goes well beyond the typical puffery of such items. --Sam Graham

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