(PG) Staring Robbie Amell, Josh Wiggins and Mia Xitlai
Max is a film about friendship, family, and challenging the idealistic definition of “hero”. Directed by Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans), this animal-friendly family film focuses on all those affected by war and death – family, friends, and even our four legged friends. Rather than centre on the story of service dog Max and his handler Justin (Josh Wiggins) during war, Yakin focuses instead on the trauma and all-important period of growth that comes after service.
If there is anything that gets the waterworks going, it’s a movie whose main character is an animal that bonds with another troubled human (think Free Willy or Andre). Team that with the very real backdrop of war and those that must move on after it, and you have yourself one sobbing, ugly-face-crying movie reviewer.
So, please, BYO tissues.
Max is a highly trained Belgian Malinois in the US Marine Corp. When his owner Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) dies during cross fire in Afghanistan, Max is left traumatised and dangerous. That is, until Max meets Kyle’s younger brother Justin. He’s your typical surly teenager – he constantly fights with his father Ray (Thomas Haden Church), is mixed up in a bad crowd of gangsters, and resents his brother for leaving him for the front line. Max instantly connects with troubled Justin, and the two begin to bond over their loss of Kyle. Josh initially struggles with his new-found responsibility, until he meets Carmen (Mia Xitlali), who has a way with dogs of all shapes and sizes. The sudden return of Kyle’s friend and fellow soldier Tyler (Luke Kleintank), though, pushes Justin to ask more questions about the death of his brother. As he investigates, Luke and Max are forced down a dangerous path. They discover that not all heroes are always enlisted.
Instead of showing the bloody reality of war in the field, Max spotlights the crippling aftermath that most soldiers face when the war is over. Some recent Hollywood films have briefly touched upon this aftermath (American Sniper, Jarhead, Fury), but not nearly in the way Max does. Rather than a battered war veteran, or a plucky young enlister who gets more than he bargained for, director Yakin focuses on one thing that I believe almost all audiences can relate to — a scared, traumatised and loyal dog. Even if you’re not a dog lover, it’s the innocence behind the animal that makes the story and the message all the more powerful.
This is where my praise for Max ends, though. I am an animal lover, so maybe I am even biased to that positive note. Don’t get me wrong — I think the film starts with immense promise. But as the storyline looks like it will become more in-depth and meaningful, Yakin dumbs down a potentially amazing and emotional story about the very real reality of service dogs (and the impact of warfare). That doesn’t mean I didn’t cry, though. I did. A lot. But every character is so one-dimensional and predictable it becomes a bore to watch during the times when you aren’t crying. The only time I sat back up on my seat was to make sure Max was OK. I love that dog.
Along with the massive character issues, the storyline seems so ridiculous at times that you’ll think it’s supposed to be a patriotic satire. Grumpy teenage American boy? Better caricature him to be a video-game addict in order to highlight the irony of war as compared with his Call of Duty gameplay (and throw in a shirt with ‘MERICA on it for good measure). Latin American characters? Better make them gun-wielding gang members (or at least cousins with one, because they have so many after all). There also was little development in relationships, apart from that of Max and Justin. Even that had a very Huckleberry Finn overtone to it, and way too many dog-on-dog fights. It’s like Yakin was so focused on his animal star, he forgot about his human cast.
If you are an animal lover like me, I would still suggest you watch the film. You WILL cry, and you WILL still enjoy there being a dog in almost every frame (yay!). You will also want to go out and rehabilitate or foster a war dog ASAP. If that is the only positive of the film, then Yakin has still done some justice to the memory of all past and present service dogs through the promotion of animal foster care.
But if you’re not a big fans of dogs, I would suggest just buying a really bad Texas Country Music album and having a good cry. It will be faster and, in the end, you will get the same result.
- What does the Bible have to say about family? (Ephesians 6:1-4)
- What does the Bible have to say about friendship? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)