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Released 7 August 2015
Director Boaz Yakin

Josh Wiggins, Lauren Graham, Thomas Haden Church
Writer(s) Boaz Yakin, Sheldon Lettich
Producer(s) Karen Rosenfelt, Ken Blancato
Origin United States
Running Time 111 minutes
Genre Adventure, Family
Rating 12A

Dogs of war.

It took approximately ten minutes for Max to make me cry. This was hardly surprising; anything I watch that includes a dog in distress makes me emotionally fragile. Just seeing Paul O'Grady's face provokes a Pavlovian response in me. So it was never going to be a case of if I was going to break down in tears but when. That moment came early on when Max, a dog used by the U.S. Marines to sniff out munitions in hostile territory, attended his handler's funeral and lay forlornly next to the coffin. It was an epic sucker punch right in the feels. That's not to say that the film is cynically manipulative, in fact it's a nicely handled family adventure with only a pleasing sprinkle of sentimentality.

As mentioned, Max is a Marine dog, devoted to his handler Kyle (Robbie Amell), an all-round hero and good guy. After Kyle's death, Max is returned to America to be retrained but is suffering from doggy PTSD, making him hostile. The only person he feels drawn towards is Kyle's brother Justin (Josh Wiggins), a wayward teenager who is critical of the military life led by his brother and Iraq veteran father (Thomas Haden Church). Justin and Max quickly become close and when the shadowy details of Kyle's death begin to come into the open, they work together to expose the corruption of Kyle's squadmate Tyler (Luke Kleintank).

Judging solely by the subject matter, one would expect Max to be a film that played squarely to Christian America – wholesome, god-fearing and staunchly pro-military. The family at the centre of the story may be all of these things but the film itself is at pains to dilute this 'Murica-style patriotism whenever it can – most memorably in a scene in which Justin's war hero father reveals just how unheroic his time in the Marines was. Writer/director Boaz Yakin keeps the preaching to the bare minimum in favour of some nicely realised characters and a good helping of adventure.

Overall, Max is an entertaining family film, with a sweet message about the many types of heroism. The human performances are good but it's the dog who we've come to see and Max himself is a joy to watch. A doggy star in the making.

- Linda O'Brien