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MAX PAYNE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Olga Kurylenko
Director: John Moore
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: January 20, 2009

“I could feel the dead down there, just below me feet, reaching up to welcome me as one of their own. It was an easy mistake to make.”

Film ***

To some, the day may never come when a popular video game gets a satisfactory cinematic translation. But after many such movies ranging from terrible to passable guilty pleasures, I’ve finally found the first video game-based movie that is a true success. From here on out, Max Payne should serve as the prime example of how to adapt a video game into dead-on popcorn entertainment.

Of course, it helps that I’m a die hard fan of the video game itself. Payne was the very first game I ever played on the XBOX, and I can’t tell you how many hours of my life were consumed by this game, as well as Max Payne 2, which was an even greater game. It was the first game to incorporate bullet-time into the gameplay, which was pretty much a dream come true for any fan of The Matrix.

When I first heard that a movie was in the works, I was both excited and apprehensive. Unlike most video games, here was one with a great deal of story to it. It was a violent tale that played out like true film noir.

At the same time, video game-based movies in general have all been weak for the most part. One can’t even give thought to the genre without thinking about the god-awful contributions of Uwe Boll, such as House of the Dead, In the Name of the King and Alone in the Dark (a title which causes me to have conniption fits just by typing it). But even outside the Boll universe there’s low grade garbage like Hitman, which took a video game series with so much cinematic potential and made it into the worst possible joke of a movie.

Not only does Max Payne put all the bad video game movies to shame, it pretty much makes all others before it look bad by comparison. Here, the mood and style of the game is conveyed is an absolute perfect way. It keeps in elements from the game, while at the same time taking extreme liberties (and successful ones) to take the saga of the hero even further.

Max (Mark Wahlberg) is a city detective working the closed case files unit for the police department. His life used to be a pretty one, until a trio of junkies killed his wife and newborn baby. Max killed two of them at the scene, and now spends his nights roaming the streets and subways searching for the one who pulled the trigger.

His trail leads him to a mysterious gang, whose members carry tattoos of a winged creature. They also seem to carry an addiction to a liquid blue drug. For some it causes extreme hallucinating effects upon consumption, but for a small percent it can turn them into a monstrous warrior.

Max also becomes accused of murder himself. A woman he ran into, and was most likely addicted to the mysterious drug, is found dead with his badge in her possession. In eluding an internal affairs investigation, he comes to realize that there might be a connection between this murder and his family’s.

The things that one should expect to find in a movie called Max Payne, like visual style, intense action/shootouts and a touch of the supernatural, are all here and translated to the screen as perfect as can be. Though the action doesn’t really surface until the final half of the movie, what comes before it is a visually striking, film noir-like tale. The look of the movie is quite unique, suggesting a slightly more colorized version of Sin City.

And the execution of the action scenes in this movie is primarily why I, a die hard fan of the video game, am tremendously pleased with the movie. Through circumstances I won’t get into, an injured Max makes a risky move in order to escape death. It then results in his transformation into a ruthless killing machine, resulting in a truly giddy grin on my face as I couldn’t wait to see Max blow away his enemies.

Wahlberg, redeeming himself after the misstep known as The Happening, is downright perfect in the title role. It’s a role that requires a believable tough guy, and Wahlberg is one of the best tough-guy actors of all time. He also brings a grim quality necessary for the character’s tragic state.

The bottom line is this; if you are a true fan of the video game then you should definitely give the movie a shot (no pun intended). I honestly don’t see any future video game-based movie surpassing Max Payne in terms of a pure satisfactory cinematic translation. If anything, it represents one of the best guilty pleasures I’ve had in quite some time.

Video ****

I was so happy that I got my Blu-ray player when I did, because this release was just around the corner and I knew it was going to rock big time. Holy crap, does it ever? The anamorphic picture and HD quality really bring the most out of this visually engaging movie. The graphic novel-like atmosphere is a big character in the movie, and the astonishing presentation brings out enormous detail in every frame. The colorful effects look amazing as well!

Audio ****

The DTS HD mix is truly a huge dose of audio firepower, which the movie delivers doses of from beginning to end! There’s an endless amount of crossover and subwoofer signal throughout the presentation, and spoken words and music playback are each heard in remarkable form. And when the action and effects kick in during the final half, prepare to have your senses rocked in every possible way.

Features ****

Fox delivers a perfectly locked n’ loaded Blu-ray release. We get both a Theatrical and an Unrated Director’s Cut version of the movie (go with the latter). Extras-wise, there’s a commentary with Director John Moore, Production Designer Daniel Dorrance and Visual Effects Supervisor Everett Burrell, a Picture Documentary as well as a BonusView option, which includes the featurettes “Walkthroughs & Cheats”,
“Making Of” and “Behind the Scenes”. Lastly, there’s a neat animated graphic novel titled “Michelle Payne”.

Summary:

Max Payne, for me, has now set the standard for movie adaptations of video games. It keeps in the right ingredients of the game while at the same time adding in new story elements so the movie can stand on its own, which it does. And as far as Blu-ray is concerned, this is very much a must have title!

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