© Warner Bros. Pictures Germany

U.S.A. 2015

Opening 1 Oct 2015

Directed by: Boaz Yakin
Writing credits: Boaz Yakin, Sheldon Lettich
Principal actors: Thomas Haden Church, Josh Wiggins, Luke Kleintank

Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell) serves with the U.S. Marines in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, where he trains dogs to search for bombs. He bonds with his present dog, Max, to the point that he loses his own life, trying to save Max in a dangerous situation (or so we are led to believe). Kyle comes home to the US (filmed in North Carolina) in a coffin. Max accompanies him, since he is now useless, having obeyed only the commands of Kyle. Father Ray (Church) builds him a small fenced-in area in the family back yard. Gradually the younger brother, Justin (Wiggins), becomes attached to Max. Justin hangs out with his Hispanic friend Chuy (Dejon LaQuake) and Chuy’s cousin Carmen (Mia Xitlali). With the help of friendly policeman Sergeant Reyes, all four of them (including Max) discover illegal weapon sales which involve Tyler (Kleintank), Kyle’s marine buddy, who survived Afghanistan.

Besides being a heart-warming family film, Max also reveals information about these military dogs, of which 3000 have worked in various countries since World War I. Presently, 25 of these dogs have died in the line of duty since 2013. The Wincotts are your average American family: mother Pam tries to keep the peace; father Ray is retired military, having served in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the Gulf War; Justin spends long hours on his computer. As the film evolves, the parents slowly recognize and accept the special qualities of their young son Justin, who was always judged in the shadow of his hero brother Kyle. How refreshing to see Justin, Carmen, and Chuy racing their bikes through the woods. How many kids have that opportunity these days in the US or even in Germany? The star of the film, of course, is Carlos, the dog actor, and his five doubles. Every canine move is perfect. It reminds me of the film White God which played at the 2014 Filmfest Hamburg, except that Max is less frightening and ends on a happily satisfying note. This film is entertaining for whole families, as well as dog lovers. (Becky Tan)

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