3 1/2 StarsMax Schemling: Fist of the Reich is the astonishingly entertaining, surefooted and mature production from much maligned genre director Uwe Boll, who attempts to bring cinematic due to one of his country’s biggest sporting icons. Starring the immensely charismatic and likable Henry Maske, a former professional boxer who is ideally cast in the title role. Maske looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Nixon’s imposing offspring. While Schmeling’s peers like James J. Braddock and Jake La Mota have been given the big-screen treatment from OSCAR winning filmmakers, Fist of the Reich is not in the same class but it does tell a memorable tale of a remarkable man living in turbulent times abroad.
The story begins with Schmeling wounded on the battlefield, he is pronounced MIA and his wife receives the news by way of messenger. However those reports prove to be inaccurate as the hulking solider limps his way to safe harbor within a medical tent. On the mend, he is assigned the task of escorting a POW to a remote destination through hostile territory. During the journey the men strike up a conversation that results in the re-telling of Schemling’s life up to that point. It is a well-worn plotting structure that does little to capture the audience’s attention, initially.
Things start to pick up with the involvement of the Reich into Schmeling’s professional, personal and even financial interests. The film goes to great lengths in showcasing Max aka the ‘Black Uhlan of the Rhine’ as a caring, generous, non-prejudice man with a big punch and a bigger heart. His conflicts with the Nazi establishment and continual resistance to being used as a propaganda puppet make the story and individual utterly fascinating. There is a lot of detail to cover and the screenplay does a fine job including the high and low points from the time Schmeling becomes World Champion in 1930 due to disqualification from a low blow to his eventual retirement in the ring in 1948.
Boll has completely abandoned his sometimes low-rent filmmaking tendencies and has produced a film of great power. If the entire Boll cannon hadn’t existed and this was the director’s breakthrough film than his name wouldn’t be defaced on message boards far and wide. If you are a fan of similar cinematic brethren Cinderella Man, The Hurricane or even Raging Bull, than Max Schemeling: Fist of the Reich is a must-see. The film is in German with English subtitles.
Director: Uwe Boll
Stars: Henry Maske, Heino Ferch, Susanne Wuest