Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Josh Wiggins, Lauren Graham,
Thomas Haden Church
Director: Boaz Yakin
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 111 Minutes
Release Date: October 27, 2015
“Max just has to know you want him.”
Max doesn’t really bring anything new to the table in terms of both war movie and the story of a boy and his dog. But I’d be seriously lying if I said it wasn’t the most endearing movie of its kind in quite some time, in particular the latter of the two genres. My enjoyment of the movie also happens to be on a personal level, as my girlfriend happens to own a dog of the very same breed as the titular character.
Max is a Belgian malinois, a sub-type of German shepherd, whose breed is commonly used by the military to help sniff out bombs, which we see our hero do in the opening scene in Afghanistan. When the dog’s handler is killed in combat, he is sent home and taken in by the slain soldier’s family. Justin (Josh Wiggins), younger brother of the soldier, is given responsibility of the dog against his will.
The bonding story between Justin and Max is one of the best handled in any boy and his dog movies to date. Both heal each other in equal parts, as Justin comes to terms with the loss of his brother and Max dealing with the same loss. Another well-handled exploration is that of Max’s PTSD, which we learn can happen to military dogs just as much as it can to their human counterparts.
What’s more, the movie morphs into a tense action movie in the second half. Where this may come across as a serious flaw in terms of unexpected shift tone for most movies, I didn’t mind it one bit here. Director Boaz Yakin has specialized in both family fare (Remember the Titans) and action movies (the Jason Statham vehicle Safe), meaning there’s a most capable director here handling the balance.
The shift comes when it’s revealed that a friend and fellow soldier in Justin’s brother’s unit, who has returned home, is involved in selling arms to nefarious types. Justin’s dad (Thomas Haden Church) soon catches wind of the plot, and is taken prisoner. Max and Justin race to the rescue in the tension-filled climax.
All in all, Max is one of the best family movies I’ve seen in quite a while. And if you happen to be a huge dog lover like I am, you’re in for an even bigger treat. It balances heartfelt emotion, humorous moments and nicely handled action bits to create quite a rousing entertainment. It goes without saying that Max himself is one of the best movie dogs to ever grace the screen!
Warner knocks another one out of the park with this Blu-ray presentation. Both the Afghanistan scenes and the ones set in Texas (though actually filmed in North Carolina) look stunning in the 1080p. Not a single image flaw spotted, as the presentation displays a strong, fully detailed picture from beginning to end, with strong colors to boot!
Equal marks for the audio quality, as Warner supplies a strong DTS HD mix for this release. Action does take center stage, with a battle sequence early on as well as action packed finale, which do provide presentation highlights. Dialogue delivery and music playback are also significantly well delivered and extremely well balanced with the other audio proceedings.
Included on this Blu-ray are two featurettes: “Working with Max”, which showcases the many dogs that were used to create one canine character on screen, and “Hero Dogs”, which looks at how much of an impact these very dogs have had on the military.
Max is as heartfelt and entertaining in the best tradition of family movies. Dog lovers will have no problem loving this movie. It also serves as a reminder of the heroism these dogs display in their military efforts! Highly recommended!