First thing’s first, my sister has a dog, a German Shepherd/Blue Heeler cross (he was a flea market pick) that looks so much like Max it’s eerie, especially since Max is a Belgian Malinois. Our dog is basically a darker colored version, so this movie struck a little close to home for me.
Tack on the fact that I know lots of guys like Kyle (the dog’s original owner), the fact that my best friend and I went to see this at 10pm after a long day, and the fact that her dad is a Marine who was deployed in the same area where Kyle was killed, and you’ll understand that both of us were a bit emotional.
That said, this movie was pretty good. The protagonist, Justin Wincott, is fourteen years old, an avid video game player, and wants nothing to do with the Marine Corps lifestyle that his father and brother pursued. When his brother Kyle is killed, a few Marines bring Kyle’s dog Max to the funeral and Max makes a scene as he tries to find Kyle before ultimately lying down beside the casket. (Cue all the tears.)
After the funeral, the Wincotts find out that Max is unable to continue his service because of his PTSD, so they have no choice but to put him down. The Wincotts go see Max and Pamela, the mother, decides to take the dog home. That’s when Max becomes Justin's responsibility, even though Justin has zero interest in the dog.
The next day, Justin goes to the bike park & meets his friend Chuy’s cousin Carmen, who is pretty good with dogs herself. (And she’s Latina! Hello, diversity!) With Carmen’s help, Justin figures out how Max is trained.
Then there’s the main antagonist, Tyler, Kyle’s sketchy friend from their school years. In one line (that I won’t spoil for y’all), Tyler has me understanding exactly where he’s coming from and his perspective on life. As a writer myself, albeit an unpublished one so far, this scene in particular resonated with me. Tyler didn’t need a lengthy oration on why he was “the bad guy” or anything like that. He just said one thing, one proper sentence, which made me feel sympathy for him.
Another scene that really struck a chord was the July 4 scene. As usual in Texas, it’s a big damn fanfare of events. People barbecuing, a parade, fireworks in the park, the whole shebang. One thing I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t pay attention to is the fact that fireworks are explosives, and even though they’re meant for entertainment, the sounds can be enough to trigger PTSD episodes in our veterans, which is emphasized by Max’s total freak-out.
While the rest of the townspeople are enjoying their fireworks and thinking nothing of it, Max is in his kennel having a major meltdown because the sounds are exactly like what he heard the day Kyle died. All Max can think of is what happened the day that his person was killed trying to save him. (Jeez, just thinking about this scene is making me wanna cry.)
Justin tried to take Max inside, but Max was too scared to leave his kennel that Justin had to get in it with him and let Max crawl in his lap and hide from the fireworks that way. (If you’ve never had a 75+ pound animal crawl in your lap because he’s afraid, lemme tell ya: it’s humbling. And unnerving.)
One of the most surprising things about this movie is the fact that it wasn’t completely a tear-jerker. There were emotional scenes, sure, but I also laughed, I cried, I was scared, and I rooted so hard for Max and Justin.
There were a few things about this movie that made me drop it a couple notches.
First, the romance subplot felt so forced that I actually groaned at its inevitable culmination. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the love interest, Carmen. She’s totally my kinda girl! But, I think the writers could have done a little better with their relationship, more than just passing glances and friends cracking jokes at Carmen and Justin’s expense.
Second, they’re supposed to be in Texas in July. WHY THE HELL ARE THEY WEARING JEANS, SWEATERS, AND JACKETS?! It’s in the 100’s in July here in Texas. At night, we count our blessings if it gets into the 70s. Wearing jeans and sweaters while outside in July in Texas is a surefire way to get heat stroke. (Been there, done that!)
Third, I’ve rehabbed my fair share of animals, specifically horses. While not the same, I can say this for certain: it’s not a good idea for someone with zero experience to try his hand at rehabilitating an animal. It’s time- and labor-intensive, emotionally straining, and sometimes very expensive. While I’m glad that Carmen had experience working with rescues, I questioned several of her choices while she helped Justin work with Max. (Was it really wise to take him off the leash that soon?)
Fourth, the ending. They played on the action movie theme of blowing shit up, explosions, and killing people. Blech. I don’t mind those elements in an action movie, but in this one, they just didn’t do it for me.
And finally, the “bad guy.” Why? Just… why? It wasn’t necessary. I was riveted from the get-go, but when the “bad guy” plot line took over, I quit. Sure, I stayed interested because Max was great, but the “bad guy” plot cheapened the movie for me something terrible. Personally, I would have handled it a lot differently. Rather than making Tyler into some sketchy, semi-3D antagonist, I’d have made him a little more of an anti-hero, or even a secondary good guy. Honestly, I think it would have been a far better idea to have Tyler, who supposedly worked closely with Kyle and Max, help Justin learn to work with the dog as well. And I would have completely scrapped the bombs-and-explosives climax.
Overall, Max was a decent movie. I can see how lots of people are rating it well, and I can see how some people are rating it really poorly. For me, it’s a 3 of 5.
On that note, I can understand how this movie will make some people immediately want to rush out and get a Belgian Malinois puppy, or a pup of similar breeding. If that’s an option you’re considering, heed my warning: Belgian Malinois and other similar breeds are very high-energy dogs who need a JOB. They have more energy than a 2-year-old child with ice cream, and they aren’t ideal for people who can’t dedicate a lengthy amount of time to them.
If anybody reading this is considering getting a Belgian Malinois or similar breed, I suggest reading these, first.