Posted on June 25, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers

“Max” is a good, old-fashioned story of a boy and a dog who mend each other’s broken hearts.  It is heartwarming without getting treacly, and frank without getting too disturbing.  And it has adventure, romance, loss, and something to say about what we should ask of ourselves and each other.  It is one of the best live action family films of the year.

Justin Wincott (a terrific Josh Wiggins) is an unhappy teenager who lives in Texas with his parents (Thomas Haden Church as Ray and Lauren Graham as Pamela).  His older brother Kyle (Robbie Amell of “The DUFF”) is a Marine in Afghanistan, working with a dog named Max, who protects the troops and sniffs out danger, locating hidden bombs and caches of weapons.  Justin won’t even stop playing a video game when Kyle is Skyping with his parents.  Kyle gently teases him for not coming to the computer screen to say hello.  “I’m just over here dealing with a minor insurgency.  He’s trying to save the whole universe.”

But Kyle is killed, and Max is severely traumatized.  The Wincotts are devastated, though proud of Kyle’s service for his country.  Ray, himself a wounded veteran, is stoic and firm in his beliefs about patriotism and manhood. Justin is angry, bitter, and hurt.  He is not interested in helping a damaged dog.  He does not know yet that the best way for him to heal his spirit is to find a way to help someone else.  He and Max share a great loss and need to learn how to process what they have experienced.

Kyle’s best friend, who served with him, was released early and goes to work for Ray.  And Justin has a best friend, Chuy (Dejon LaQuake), who has a spirited, brave cousin who loves dogs named Carmen (Mia Xitlali).  With Carmen’s help, Justin helps Max feel at home.  But as a Marine tells him, “These dogs were born to work. Take away that sense of purpose and they’re lost.”

Justin needed a sense of purpose, too.  He finds it when it turns out their town has some bad guys with guns and rottweilers.  Justin and his friends find out that Max’s sense of purpose means he will do anything to keep them safe.  Yakin keeps a lot of moving parts moving smoothly.  Justin’s relationship with his dad, with Max, with Carmen, and with the bad guys all come together as a part of his growing understanding of his own sense of purpose.

Parents should know that this film includes wartime violence, a sad death, dog fights, adults and children in peril, weapons dealers, brief strong language, and a teen kiss.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Justin and his father to get along?  Why did Justin’s father wait to tell him the story of his wound?

If you like this, try: the “Lassie” movies and “Remember the Titans”

Related Tags:


Drama Family Issues Stories about Teens War

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