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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Max, Review: Sane Max

Max, Review: Sane Max

A Belgian Shepherd dog called Max, working as a bomb sniffer in Afghanistan with the Marines, returns from service, after his handler Kyle (Robbie Arnell) is killed during a manoeuvre. When told by Sergeant Reyes (Jay Hernandez) that the Marines might put him down on account of his crazed and violent behaviour, as a result of post-traumatic stress, the man’s devastated family adopts the dog. Over time, the dog ends up bonding with the late Marine’s troubled 14-year-old brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), although the father, Ray (Thomas Haden Church), an Iraq war veteran nursing two bullet wounds in his leg that affects his walk, is hostile to his very presence. The mother, Pamela (Lauren Graham), acts as a mediator in breaking down the hostilities between the father and son, and the father and dog.

Justin’s best friend Chuy (Dejon LaQuake) and his tough-taking dog-lover cousin Carmen (Mia Xitlali) step-in to help domesticate the dog, who becomes a likeable pet. Meanwhile, Kyle’s best friend Thomas Harne (Luke Kleintank), who was in the Marines together with Kyle, even at the time of the incident, returns home, claiming a discharge due to injury, which claim turns out to be untrue when Sgt. Reyes checks military records. There is a sinister secret behind Kyle’s death. Ray and Justin stumble upon evidence after evidence, and the secret will not remain a secret for too long. Now completely sane and up to his intelligent best, Max will play an incredible heroic role in unravelling it.

Max underscores the importance of a good script. Dog heroics are an age-old film staple, but it needed the imagination of writer-director Boaz Yakin (Safe, Uptown Girls, Remember The Titans, A Price Above Rubies) and co-writer Sheldon Lettich (director: The Hard Corps--also co-writer, The Order, The Last Warrior) to walk the tight-rope between making a dog-lovers’ movie and a film-buffs’s film. They have been more than reasonably successful. Metaphors and patriotic references are not hard to find, but they have been balanced with elements like Ray’s war injury reality and a gun-runner who is not a homicidal maniac.

Towards the end, the dog heroics approach a partly to be expected, over-the-top classification, only to make you almost overlook this anomaly in an overall credible experience. Justin comes across as a believable 14 year-old American boy who has complexes of his own and thinks nothing of ripping and selling video games in the black market. Pamela is a stereo-type. Chuy and Carmen, the Mexican cousins, are great fun to watch and listen to, though a little hard to accept as wholly natural. Many a times, dialogue tends to degenerate into claptrap or prosaic verbiage, and the team could have done with an additional hand at language. More than 25 dogs, and an equal number of their American handlers, have died in battle, as the end credits inform you. Max is a good attempt at highlighting their contributions to the US military and state interests.

Josh Wiggins (Hellion, Lost in the Sun) is in very good form, with just the right angle of sneer and eloquent silences and pauses. His emergence as an unlikely player in the violent mystery is smooth and convincing. Lauren Graham (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) as Pamela looks chubby and suitably matronly. She does ooze love and home-maker qualities, even as the part fails to grow beyond a stereo-type. Oscar nominee Thomas Haden Church (Sideways, Tombstone, George of the Jungle, Spiderman 3, Smart People) is a great piece of casting. Rugged-looking and a man of few words, Ray does not have a long character graph.

Nevertheless, the two instances that trigger off his innate mental and physical strength are well delineated. Robbie Arnell has a brief role, essayed with ease. Luke Kleintank, as the misguided Marine, is no super-villain, and that gives his role a surprisingly acceptable dimension. A significant and longish role, this will help his career. Scene-stealers Dejon LaQuake and Mia Xitlali, as Justin’s motor-mouth, wise-cracking cyclist brat pal, and his cousin, who has a way with dogs and develops a crush on Justin not too long after setting sights on him, respectively, add welcome lighter and romantic moments to the narrative. Jay Hernandez is graceful and dignified, as a man in his uniform should be.

Good, old-fashioned story-telling, set in present day, with minimal interference from CGI, motion-capture and animation, not even 3D, Max is worth a watch. What’s more, you don’t have to be a dog-lover to enjoy the film.

Rating: ***



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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