by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Dogs! Love ’em! I grew up with dogs around me all the time and I don’t think I’ve ever met a dog that didn’t wanna jump at me and roll around and play. I like dogs more than people most of the time, I’d rather be out walking my dog than anywhere with most other people. In fact, my long-suffering wife likes to say that I’m 50% dog; a theory I don’t work very hard to squash when I walk up to dogs and make stupid puppy noises at them as I fall about the floor with the furry fools.
Dog films, on the other hand, I tend to avoid like the plague. If there’s one thing guaranteed to make me cry like a little girl who can’t find her stuffed giraffe, it’s a film with a hero dog. Those movies absolutely slay me, I want to sit in the corner crying while I hug my gorgeous staffy and hope that it’s over quickly before someone sees me crying like I’m at a bloody family funeral! So what better film to watch in a public cinema than one with the tag line “Best Friend, Hero, Marine” that describes its star, a Belgian Shepherd called Max.
So… Max. A film about a hero dog!
A military trained sniffer dog; Max is fiercely loyal to his handler, United States Marine Kyle Wincott. While on patrol in Kandahar in Afghanistan, Max and the team he’s working with are ambushed and Kyle is killed by the insurgents. Suffering from the loss of his handler and unable to handle loud bangs and sudden noises, Max is shipped home with Kyle’s coffin and taken back to base where he attends Kyle’s funeral. Having only calmed down when he met Kyle’s brother, Justin; Max is unable to work with anyone else and as such, the Marines are going to retire him. Sadly, his traumatised demeanour means that to be retired will mean to be put down.
Wanting to save Max, Kyle’s family adopt him from the military and try to make him a part of the family. Much to the displeasure of Kyle’s younger brother Justin; a stereotypical video game playing teenager with a poor attitude, whose veteran dad has passed on the responsibility of looking after the dog to him. While Justin and Max get to grips with each other, with the help of Justin’s friend Chuy and his mini-Michelle Rodriguez cousin Carmen, the unlikely pair form a bond with each other that is as strong as any brotherly friendship can be.
While this is happening, Kyle’s squadmate Tyler, a guy who had a few fingers in a few dodgy pies in Afghanistan and is partly responsible for what has happened to Max, has returned from the desert and brought his dodgy dealings with him. Determined to involve Justin and the rest of his family, the teenager needs grow up quickly and think on his feet to keep his family together and safe.
Part family drama and part Homeward Bound style family adventure, Max suffers a little from not knowing what it wants to be. At times when it’s a soppy drama about a family adopting their dead son’s bomb sniffing dog, it’s lovely. It’s a heart warming film guaranteed to get all but the soulless smiling with a tear in their eye. But on the other hand, the second story of ex-marines having shady business dealings with just seems like an attempt to be a little edgy when it really isn’t necessary. I’m not denying the story’s use as a tool to show Max’s growth and his healing but to watch it felt like the dog (whose real name is Carlos) and his support cast may have tripped across another film being made in the woods that they were shooting in.
I do admit to coming out of Max a little disappointed. Combining two of my favourite subjects in dogs and the military seems like it should be a winning formula but it fell very flat in points. That’s not to say it isn’t good, I just expected a little more.
Max is a film about a beautiful dog with PTSD; to say it’s emotionally manipulative in places is to also tell you that the sky is blue and water can sometimes be rather wet. But those scenes are relatively few and far between and most of them you’ve seen if you’ve watched, and cried at, the trailer. They did save a few for those that watch the film, one particular scene absolutely killed me as Max sneaks in to get good and close to Tyler while he’s asleep; completely mirroring something my dog likes to do when she’s knows someone is feeling a bit down. That insanely cute scene crippled me as I tried to get through the film without blubbing. For the record, it’s impossible. Max is in no way a bad film. It loses its way a couple of times and seems to get a little disjointed in the middle. But it’s definitely worth your time if hero dogs are your thing.