John Hanlon Reviews

Film Reviews

Max Movie Poster


Genre: Family, Action and Adventure

Director: Boaz Yakin

Cast: Josh Wiggins, Robbie Amell, Lauren Graham, Thomas Haden Church, Luke Kleintank

MPAA-Rating: PG

Release Date: June 26th, 2015

Black Souls is a grim and despairing look at the mafia from the perspective of three brothers who— in one way or another— are still tied to the “family” business. Borrowing heavily from The Godfather (the homages to that  film are obvious), visit this film nonetheless manages to craft its own cinematic identity by focusing in on three brothers and a troubled teen (a son of one of the brothers) who finds himself in the midst of a growing war.

Made in Italy, link the feature begins by introducing us to Leo(Giuseppe Fumo), sildenafil the troubled only child of Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), who chose to become a shepherd rather than a criminal. At first it seems like this is Leo’s story at play but director Francesco Munzi slowly reveals that there are bigger issues than the boy’s teenage rebellion at stake.

Leo wants to leave the calm family business of shepherding and go into the other family business: the mafia. Luigi (Marco Leonardi), Leo’s uncle, is all too eager to bring the impetuous Leo. The two, it turns out, have much in common including a desire to indulge in dangerous behavior. Luigi’s cool-headed other brother Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) knows that Leo’s choices are disrespectful to his father but tries to keep the peace.

As the story unfolds, the film’s dark color palette implies how grim this family’s business truly is and how dangerous their lives have become. When someone in their family gets killed, the brothers are jolted out of their daily lives to confront the inarguable fact that— despite their outward appearances— they are still mobsters underneath.

When Rocco’s wife asks if “the crooks [are] coming over for dinner,” her husband cautions her never to say that. He may act like he’s not in the business but he seemingly always will be.

Munzi imbues his scenes with a coldness and a calculation that fits the story well. Despite what the brothers may prefer, they know what’s at stake when their family is at war. There’s little room for compromise and there’s few choices other than revenge. Funeral services become revenge preparations as the family looks for the perpetrators. “We’ll count them one by one to see who’s there and who’s not,” one of the brothers notes about the funeral. \n
Based on the novel by Gioacchino Criaco, the feature never steers away from mafia conventions but uses them to tell this story about an old world family tied to the traditions of the past. Leo may believe that choosing this business is a choice but in some ways, it never was. Members who were out are pulled back in and members who were in are pulled out (a theme that will clearly remind viewers of the superior Godfather films).

Despite similarities though, Black Souls stands as its own  exploration of family and honor and the film’s great cinematography only hints at the darkness that is slowly consuming their very lives.
At the beginning and end of the new family drama Max, see
the filmmakers tell us about the importance of military dogs. In text appearing during the opening moments , it’s noted that over 3000 dogs have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and that dogs have been used in the military since World War I.

The film hopes to honor that— and properly does so— but then unfortunately loses its stamina in a silly subplot plot about weapons being smuggled from war zones into the United States.

Early on in the story, military hero Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) is killed overseas during combat. His parents Pamela (Lauren Graham) and Ray (Thomas Haden Church) are struggling with their loss alongside their impetuous younger son Justin (Josh Wiggins), who would rather spend his time illegally copying video games than doing anything productive.

At Kyle’s funeral, Max— the search dog that Kyle had trained for combat— returns to the United States. Max climbs onto Kyle’s coffin during the funeral, hoping to see his master once again. The military prepares to send Max back into combat but quickly realize that Max suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and can’t serve anymore. He’s been running away from loud noises and explosions. Instead of letting the dog be put to sleep, Kyle’s family adopts him and Justin begrudgingly becomes his caretaker.

Writer/director Boaz Yakin clearly has his heart in the right place making this movie, which nicely honors the sacrifices that veterans and military dogs have made during their service. Few movies have truly chronicled the plight of these animals and Yakin does a nice job showing what they are capable of in war zones and the effects that war can have on them. A scene showing the once ferocious Max recoiling and scared of loud 4th of July fireworks nicely shows that these dogs can suffer post-war in the same way that veterans can.

Where the film falters though is in its generic plot about Tyler (Luke Kleintank), Kyle’s fellow veteran who has smuggled illegally-obtained weapons back to the United States to sell them. During early scenes showing Kyle in combat overseas, it’s hinted that Tyler is up to no good. When he returns to the United States only to encounter an obviously-aggravated Max, we know that he’s being set up as the main antagonist.

Justin begins to doubt Tyler’s intentions and eventually recruits his friends Carmen (Mia Xitlali) and Chuy (Dejon LaQuake) to help discover the truth. That storyline leads to a clichéd dramatic showdown that feels like a tired throwback of an old Lassie episode. Predictably, all of the story pieces come clumsily together leading to the movie’s second half feeling far less dramatic or interesting than its first half.

Max would’ve been better served if screenwriters Boaz Yakin and Sheldon Lettich had showed more confidence in their premise rather than taking it in a melodramatic direction. Justin’s growing bond with Max could’ve been the entire focus on the film and would have improved it considerably. When the duo is onscreen and Justin is coming to grips with his brother’s death, that’s when the film works but when their friendship becomes secondary, the movie quickly loses stamina.

Fortunately, as the credits start to play, a wonderful montage plays showing real videos of military dogs serving their country alongside their patriotic trainers. The entire movie is rightly dedicated to them.

It’s a reminder that this film— despite its obvious plot failings— does us a service in honoring our heroes, human and otherwise.

Review by: John Hanlon