Synopsis – A dog that helped US Marines in Afghanistan returns to the U.S. and is adopted by his handler’s family after suffering a traumatic experience.
My Take – This is film is yet another which divulges you into the feeling of nostalgia! Back in 80s & 90s, family film starring animals such as chimps & dogs as best friends with the star of the film being probably the most popular ones! With the change in decade & film making style, this is one genre of family films which were unfortunately (in most cases fortunately) pushed into the section of direct to DVD movies or TV specials (especially the holiday ones). But still who can forget films such as 101 Dalmatians (1996) or the Air Bud series or Marley & Me (2008) or Turner & Hooch (1989), OK I am just kidding about the last one! This film is an old-fashioned action-adventure, very much in the tradition of earlier canine movie stars. There are clear-cut good guy and bad guy characters. Right and wrong are well-defined and values like loyalty and self-sacrifice are front and center. There is danger (shown with impressive cinematography) and even death, but no blood – and no swearing or sexuality. This is family-friendly fare at its finest, well almost.
This inspirational story won’t only make you explore your feelings in a refreshing way, it will also teach you about important life lessons along the way. The power of truth, honesty and the importance of opening your heart to those around you –to both humans and animals.- As you watch the growth of the main character in Max you will also feel yourself growing alongside of him. The story follows Max (played by a dog named Carlos, who previously appeared in “Project Almanac“), a Belgian Malinois (a type of Belgian Shepherd) who is employed as a military working dog, sniffing out weapons, explosives and other kinds of trouble for U.S. Marines in Afghanistan. When his handler, Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), is killed, Max accompanies the body back to the U.S. and is even brought to Kyle’s funeral. The dog formed such a strong bond with Kyle and was so traumatized by combat that he won’t obey anyone else. But Max is relatively calm around Kyle’s teenage brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), so Justin’s parents, Ray (Thomas Hayden Church) and Pamela (Lauren Graham) decide to adopt the dog. Like it or not (mostly not), Justin is put in charge of taking care of Max. Justin learns a few tricks from a girl named Carmen (Mia Xitlali), the cousin of his best friend, Chuy (Dejon LaQuake), and in a very short time, Max is off leash and following Justin and his friends as they daringly ride their bikes through the woods near their homes. Max seems to be warming up to everyone except Tyler Harne (Luke Kleintank), a boyhood friend of Kyle’s and fellow Marine who was since returned from Afghanistan. Whenever Max sees Tyler, he wants to attack. Carmen tells Justin that dogs are usually good judges of character. Justin also senses that there is something not right about Tyler, even as Ray hires Tyler to work for him. Justin approaches another Marine dog handler (Jay Hernandez) for information about Tyler and does some deep forest reconnaissance of his own, with Max in tow. I don’t want to reveal too much, so I’ll just say that Justin’s and Max’s instincts about Tyler are not wrong and what they discover in those woods jeopardizes their safety and that of their family and friends. The film starts off as a war drama & then quickly changes into the family drama part. Although most parts of the movie are indeed dramatizations, it can nicely recreate scenes inspired by real-life events.
The scene where Max sits by Kyle’s coffin draped with the flag is among the most emotional scenes I have seen in a while. The most beautiful thing about this movie is how remarkably well the actors did at making this film bring out the raw truth and ‘real life’ events displayed throughout this movie. Carlos (real life Belgian Malinois in the film) did an absolutely amazing job at bringing to life the character of Max and making everyone fall in love with this true hero. I have seen some good dog films before but by far this canine outdid every other dog ‘actor’ I have seen. Sure the film has its own faults, mainly when the film unnecessarily tries to circumvent to get the audience to feel something grand and, in doing so, undermines the inherent emotional value of this story at hand. I get its tough being from an army family. The first half of the movie is pretty slow. Some of the dialog is not just old-fashioned, it distractedly lacks freshness and even a little silly. Yet thanks to the good flow of its central characters the film manages to work. First and foremost, Josh Wiggins handles Justin’s character perfectly, with his believable teenage stubbornness, his character is most believable. Thomas Haden Church gives a strong performance of the kind of father who’s experiences in the Marines defined him as a person so much so that he can’t understand why anybody else wouldn’t think or act like him. Church has it all in his look and tone of voice, summoning fright in anyone who dares question his authority. Robbie Amell is likable in a small role. Luke Kleintank, Lauren Graham, Mia Xitlali, Dejon LaQuake & Jay Hernandez do a good job. On the whole, ‘Max‘, is something I really wasn’t expecting, with all the right components to make families smile, laugh, tear up, and applaud, this film is destined to be a crowd pleaser! On a technical level, sure its a mess, maybe they could have worked with a better story line, but nonetheless you have to admit the characters & the lead dog more than make up for the negatives. Give it a watch!
Director – Boaz Yakin
Rated – PG
Run Time – 111 minutes