Reviewed by: Raphael Vera
|Featuring:||Robbie Amell … Kyle Wincott
Thomas Haden Church … Ray
Lauren Graham … Pamela
Josh Wiggins … Justin Wincott
Luke Kleintank … Tyler Harne
Jay Hernandez … Sergeant Reyes
Joseph Julian Soria … Emilio
|Director:||Boaz Yakin—“Remember the Titans”|
|Distributor:||Warner Bros. Pictures|
“Best friend. Hero. Marine.”
The ties that bind a dog to his master can be one of the most unbreakable bonds most of us will ever see here on Earth. Now, further forge those traits of loyalty, love, trust and respect on the battlefield, and you can begin to understand why a service dog and his trainer become linked for life, and not even death can break that bond. Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) is the trainer for “Max,” a type of Belgian Shepherd of the same breed that was used by Seal Team 6 in the Operation to kill Bin Laden, and together they lead their unit on missions to find hidden weapons caches in the villages of Afghanistan.
Soon after, Kyle goes down in a firefight, and Max begins mourning his lost master and exhibiting symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder). Left behind is Kyle’s father Ray, a gruff veteran himself played by Thomas Haden Church, his mother Pam (Lauren Graham) and his younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins), who, surprisingly, ends up as the only calming influence on Max. Justin is given no choice in the matter and has to take care of his brother’s dog or let the military put him down.
Justin is a troubled teenager who, unknown to his parents, makes money from illegal copies (pirating) of video games that he sells through his best friend Chuy. Unused to responsibilities, Justin has been forced on Max, and he is a very reluctant caretaker. The arrival of Chuy’s cousin Carmen (Mia Xitlali), who just happens to be an expert with dogs, will go a long way towards helping Max become a normal dog again.
As Justin begrudgingly adjusts to his new role, a war buddy of Kyle’s, recently discharged, practically becomes a part of his family, but little do any of them know he has a dark agenda, involving stolen weapons and dealings with Mexican drug cartels, and only Max sees right through his charade. The only question is whether or not the family finds out before it costs any of them their lives.
“Max” is many things—a homage to the bravery of our soldiers and the vital role service dogs like him play in keeping our heroes alive, a forced ‘coming of age’ story for Justin, and lastly a new chapter in the life of a combat veteran dog who seems every bit the Marine as the one who trained him. As you would expect from a film touching on war, there are aspects that may cause concern.
Violence: Moderate. The film begins with our soldiers in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan, and there is a sense of strong peril throughout the beginning and the final act of the film. Soldiers exchange gunfire with the Taliban and are attacked with IEDs (improvised explosive devices). The villain, as well as his accomplice, and the cartel buyers are all heavily armed. Lives are threatened, and people die, but the deaths are covered up by smoke, pyrotechnics or explosions. A man falls to his death and is seen briefly after he hits the ground. Max must face the viciousness of some pit-bulls during several fights, and he bares his teeth at anyone he believes poses a threat to him or his family. Rated PG, the violence is relatively tame, but not for younger children.
Language: Mild. No curses or foul language is used in this film. The Lord’s name is casually used once, when a someone says, “Waste them all. Let God sort them out,” and, when someone is missing, it is said they are, “God knows where.” Chuy says that his cousin is a “traitor to her race,” but Carmen has to remind him that “Mexican is not a race.” This is a refreshingly clean film whose language, if not the tone, is suitable for all audiences.
Sex/Nudity: None. An impromptu kiss among teens is a mostly one-sided incident and due more to the emotion of the moment and not lustful. Ray loves his wife Pam and kisses her tenderly.
Foul Language—The best lesson I’ve seen on this subject in years occurs when Justin’s mom catches him mocking Kyle’s heroics by saying, “His friggin’ dog’s the hero.” Pamela wisely says, “You can’t hide the words in your mind from God by switching out a couple letters in your mouth.” The Apostle Paul through the Spirit admonishes us to likewise watch our language.
Our Thought Life—Justin challenges his mom that it doesn’t matter what is going on in his head, as long as he doesn’t say it; “You think he [God] cares what I got in my mind?” His mom knows better, and so do we, if we pay heed to wisdom from our Creator.
“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” —Proverbs 23:7
Loyalty—As the single most recurring theme in the film, there are numerous incidents of involving loyalty—Kyle’s loyalty to Max in battle, Ray and Pam for saving their son’s dog from being euthanized, Justin leaving the 4th of July celebration when he thinks of Max, Max sacrificing himself for Justin’s safety (more than once) and Carmen for explaining to Justin that he shouldn’t let anyone bad mouth his dad, and he should instead be standing up for him. “That’s Loyalty,” she states straight up.
Honest Work—Ray offers his son Justin a summer job at his storage facility at $8 per hour, but Justin would rather stay home playing video games. The fact of the matter is Justin is making much more money by hacking and selling pirated games and sees no value in regular work. The Bible is clear when it speaks on second chances, work and a charitable mindset.
False Accusations—Max is blamed for things he did not do by the very figure that came to mean so much to a grieving family. What a great atrocity this is not to mention a betrayal of trust. Is it any wonder then how God feels about this?
“Max” is an uneven and sometimes slow-paced film that shines brightest when focused on Max, but dims when following Justin and his friends, though I admit this probably reflects a ‘young adult’ appeal. A big film that by the end feels a bit formulaic and “small screen,” it includes strong performances by actors Church and Hernandez (in a supporting role) and an under utilized role for Lauren Graham. All characters, however, are changed for the better by knowing Max, making this a fairly entertaining, bonafide family-friendly and heart-warming film.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.