Movie review: Max bites emotional jugular

Though littered with sentiment and family movie hokum, this story of a military dog suffering from post-traumatic stress finds the essence of true friendship, prompting uncontrolled saline leaks from the eyeball, writes Katherine Monk




Starring: Josh Wiggins, Thomas Haden Church, Robbie Amell, Mia Xitlali, Lauren Graham, Luke Kleintank

Directed by: Boaz Yakin

Running time: 111 minutes

Parental Guidance

By Katherine Monk

There are two sure-fire tearjerker film genres: Movies about a family pet, and movies about young people dying in war. Put the two together, and you have an explosive saline cocktail capable of blasting through any calcified curmudgeon.

Max is undeniable proof of such power. This movie from veteran director Boaz Yakin will turn your tear ducts into Harlem-summer fire hydrants as it tells the story of a Belgian Malinois named Max, a dog who also happens to be a soldier.

Now, for those people who find the mere idea of a dog-soldier repugnant, do not see this movie. That’s all there is to it, because you won’t be able to suspend disbelief long enough to figure out why Max was an important story to tell.

You’ll be arguing with the very notion of animal recruits, which is fair, but something that’s been happening since the very beginning of animal-human relations: We use animals to help us win our own agenda, whether it’s unconditional love, keeping law and order by finding drugs in someone’s suitcase, or pulling the meat off their bones to fill our tummies.

None of it really makes any sense if you stand far away and wonder why some animals are friends and some food, but then again, war is just plain insane. And if you want to enjoy Max as much as it deserves, then you have to sit, and wait, for your treat.

Feeling a little like a Lifetime movie in the first few scenes, we watch handsome Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) Skype his family from Afghanistan. He’s hanging with his buddies, but his real friend is Max, the dog he’s trained from the time he was just a pup to stand by his side.

Max can smell explosives, making field patrols that much safer for the men and women on the ground, and if there’s one thing that undeniable: Dogs like to feel loved and needed, and some breeds really like to work.

Max and Kyle are a great team, and they’ve saved their comrades on more than one occasion, but when things go very wrong, Max ends up back in the United States in a cage, alone and suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Max is no longer useful to the military, so he’s on death row until he meets Justin (Josh Wiggins), Kyle’s little brother. On the sullen side as a result of feeling inadequate and average next to his big brother the hero, Justin doesn’t have any real desire to bond with Max, but Max smells the family connection: Justin is the only one who can touch him without a flash of fang.

Even though we know where this jamboree of jingo and Fido is heading, we can’t help but climb in the cab and ride shotgun – just to hang our head out the window and watch the emotional scenery go by.

Even though we know where this jamboree of jingo and Fido is heading, we can’t help but climb in the cab and ride shotgun – just to hang our head out the window and watch the emotional scenery go by.

Yakin knows the four-legged star is an emotional sinkhole, destined to pull us in, but he doesn’t completely abuse the sentimental carte blanche. He simply taps the purity of the dog’s gaze to explore how tainted the rest of us are.

Yakin and his co-writer Sheldon Lettich script a whole family drama involving a patriotic patriarch who can’t show love, a teenage boy who cannot trust and a best friend who can’t stop talking about himself.

When you compare these whining, self-absorbed humans to the dog, who is incapable of self-pity, the whole notion of heroism starts to shift – and to this film’s credit, it understands the subtleties of self-sacrifice.

More importantly, it comes close to asking the hardest question of all because when you see dogs wearing flak jackets and marching into gun battles, you’re struck by the unquestioning loyalty of dog-human love, and also heartbroken by the fact we’re exploiting it in the name of war.

Yakin captures the beauty of the bond because the dog, a two-year-old Kentucky-born Malinois named Carlos, feels emotionally authentic in every frame. You can’t argue with dog eyes. The only time the dog performance feels like training is when Carlos seems to be looking off-screen at the handler for a cue, but it doesn’t happen often, and even when it does, we get over it quickly because the movie is always moving forward – challenging the forces of evil with undying love.

The slop factor is high, and the family drama often feels like a poorly written episode of Andy Griffith featuring a nasty Jim Nabors, but it’s still undeniably seductive because Max captures the essence of true love, which thrust against the random acts of cruelty and hate that is war, only looks more beautiful, precious and cuddly.





User Rating

4.3 (3 Votes)



Max: Borrowing a classic template from the legendary dog series Rin Tin Tin, Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans, A Price Above Rubies) offers up the perfect canine hero in Max, the story of a Military Working Dog (MWD) who loses his handler in Afghanistan and becomes forlorn and hostile. The only person who can touch him is Justin (Josh Wiggins), the younger brother of his late companion, but Justin has some issues of his own to sort out. Though much of this is sloppy family drama, the purity of the dog’s love cuts through all the goo and hero glory to make us see how we quickly we acquiesce to cruelty, and accept it as part of adulthood. – Katherine Monk

No Replies to "Movie review: Max bites emotional jugular"