When it comes to having an emotional reaction towards movies and/or general entertainment media, I am about as apathetic and unfeeling as Geralt of Rivia. Apart from anger and offense when I watch something made by Michael Bay, they leave no lasting impression because movies are a complete fabrication on part of people trying to make money. There are a number of works I hold in high esteem like Blade Runner and Apocalypse Now, but I am not enough of a fanatic to make a religion out of Death Wish or commit a crime in the name of Patton. People who lose their minds over Sansa getting raped or the eternal maelstrom of hilarity that is GamerGate have severe personality disorders that need attention. But what happens when a movie makes me feel?
Before the trailer started I knew the dog was going to die in Max. After all the films I have seen you cannot fool me with a heart-warming story about an animal and expect me to believe said animal will live to the end. I may be realistic and practical in my thinking, but I am not enough of a cynical monster I would not care about a movie involving a dog. Dogs are awesome and I do not like to see animals killed in movies or in real life. Did Max make me feel something or did its faults reaffirm my conviction to take nothing seriously?
Max unapologetically tells the story of a disgruntled youth finding happiness and a sense of belonging through a just as damaged animal. Behind its starry-eyed venire is a story about a soldier coping with the loss of his best friend in an environment beyond the battlefield. With all its sincerity, however, Max makes more than a few missteps into the realm of Christian propaganda.
After the death of his brother in Afghanistan, Justin, played by Josh Wiggins, becomes the reluctant owner of a service dog named Max, a Belgian Malinois. Together they must learn to live with each other and change if they want to get along.
When I say Christian propaganda, I am not referring to the overall presentation/purpose of the film. One could argue a story that focuses on soldiers with an Americana aesthetic is propaganda, but what separates Max, Act of Valor, and American Sniper from God’s Not Dead is their honesty.
The basis of propaganda is a perpetuation of falsehoods and sensationalism. Joseph Goebbels took the delusional ideals of Nazism, the growing popularity of anti-Semitism, the sheer visual presence of the Nazi Party, and convinced a whole country to support a madman. He took advantage of peoples’ fear and hatred in the same fashion Christian directors promote their agendas.
Their messages are not as dangerous as what the Nazis had in mind, but that does not change the fact the most offensive Christian films are built on lies conjured by prejudice. God’s Not Dead made Atheists look like heartless condescending monsters, Liberals like cancerous (literally) hate mongers, and Muslims like woman-beating iconoclasts. The message and intention of the movie, evident in the title, hides the fact it uses deception to push its agenda on its audience.
Max and films alike do not have to lie to get their message across. War, personal loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are real issues that need to be addressed in their fullest. American Sniper did it the best by showing Chris Kyle, an all around ideal paragon of heroism, as human as possible. At home he constantly struggles with rehabilitation back into life as a civilian, a spouse who worries, and the notion he is powerless to keep his friends alive when in combat. That is what separates realistic war films from actual propaganda that has to lie.
Lengthy digression aside, how does Max share elements of Christian films? The problems lie in the feverishly botched dialog and characters that irritated me to no end. Where God’s Not Dead had no clue how Atheists and Muslims worked, it is almost as if Max was written by aliens who have no concept of how people talk to each other and behave. “Misinformed” and “out-of-touch” are keywords here.
The younger characters exchange lines so awkward in delivery and content I was squirming in my seat. I admit I am old, but Jesus Christ, do kids still refer to each other as B? Did the child actors even bother to speak up about what was coming out of their mouths? Maybe it was the fault of the director, but I have a feeling whoever wrote this also wrote the 90s abortion that is Airborne.
The issue with the characters can be justified by the story. In most cases one must fabricate conflict and crisis to give the plot weight. A perfect example is in Adaptation where Nicholas Cage struggled to make a boring story exciting for audiences. The same can be said in the case of Max, but that will not stop me from talking about the most glaring problem-character and making this review longer than it aught to be.
Justin is the most petulant little twerp I have ever seen. He grew up with two family members in the military, has more stuff in his room than I ever had at his age, and parents who thanklessly provide all those great things. But because the story needs a flawed protagonist, Justin is ungrateful to the bother that gave his life for his country, is extremely disrespectful for a kid who is supposed to have grown up in the South, and pirates video games for a profit when he could be an employee at a business his father conveniently owns. He changes by the time the film concludes, of course, but the time before was so infuriating I wished Justin was real so I could scalp him.
Other problems bugged me to no end.
How does a civilian teenager get access to a secure military installation where K9 units are developed and trained? Do they let people in based on the honor system or are the guards really that stupid? Why does a location that supposedly takes place in Texas look like North Carolina? How did an enlisted Marine gain the ability to transport weapons and explosives from Afghanistan to the States with intent to sell and why was their no formal investigation by the Department of Defense when discrepancies were uncovered? Is a slap on the wrist standard punishment for losing captured enemy firearms? Do Mexicans like My Chemical Romance (MCR)? No, seriously, there was a Mexican character wearing an MCR shirt early in the movie. It did not make any sense to me.
Anyway, the cast itself delivered serviceable performances. The standout was Thomas Haden Church as the father Ray. He really sold the idea of being a parent and veteran who struggles with being called a hero and unintentionally responsible for the death of his son. Luke Kleintank put his best sociopathic foot forward as Tyler. As an antagonist he wants to make money through illegal means, but has enough of a conscience to keep everything on an even keel. It is undeniable the dog who played Max stole the show. Imagine Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Chris Kyle in canine form, with ticks and behaviors not unlike human soldiers with PTSD. Either he was trained to act in such a way or he was an actual service dog.
Problems aside, Max has enough honesty on the subject of soldiers returning home to overlook a few of its faults. It is still very much a dog movie about a boy and his companion improving each other’s lives. If you prefer something realistic without the sentimental undertones and propaganda feel, American Sniper or Act of Valor will serve you well.