18 March 2009

Movie Review: Max Payne


B+

Max Payne
2008, 100mins, PG-13
Director: John Moore
Writer: Beau Thorne
Cast includes: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Donal Logue, Olga Kurylenko, Amaury Nolasco, Chris O’Donnell
Release Date: 17th October 2008

Hollywood has a fairly tragic history of adapting videogames for the silver screen; somehow games consoles and filmmaking seem destined to fail as a cocktail. There have been noble efforts in recent years, I always enjoyed the first “Tomb Raider” flick and 2006’s “Silent Hill” for all its narrative confusion was genuinely scary in parts. Now we have “Max Payne” a movie based on a shooter that was in turn itself sourced from the great film noirs of the past. Directed by John Moore the talented Irishman responsible for “Behind Enemy Lines” and the shockingly well executed redo of “The Omen”, “Max Payne” has its share of faults but they’re undermined by beautiful visuals, sturdy action and a robust central performance from Mark Wahlberg. It’s no classic but “Max Payne” might just mark the best videogame movie we’ve received thus far.

Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) is an embittered cop working the cold case unit, desperately trying to unearth evidence or suspects regarding the murder of his wife and child three years prior. A loner since their deaths, Max spends his days in the station and his nights hunting the streets of New York, seeking the scum who have made his life such a misery. After years of searching for potential leads Max finally unearths a live one and is aided by Russian assassin Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) whose sister may have been killed by the same people who whacked Max’s family. Together they follow a peculiar crumb trail, one which leads them to the big pharmaceutical company in town and the involvement of a military drug, which promotes superhuman strength but disturbingly supernatural hallucinations.

For a film of this sort to work the lead actor needs to have his game face on, and thankfully for “Max Payne” Wahlberg provides a strong yet reserved turn in the title role. Following his epic fail in “The Happening” it’s nice to see Wahlberg can still bring his trademark screen presence to the table and play the action anti-hero, he provides Max with a forceful personality that suits the pictures rough around the edges energy well. The supporting actors are a little less effective, Mila Kunis is simply miscast as supposedly lethal hit woman Mona whilst Beau Bridges playing Max’s mentor fails to match Wahlberg’s intensity in their shared scenes. Bridges is a TV level actor and when placed inside a feature film which depends on him to any degree, he just can’t keep up. On the plus side in fairly minor roles Olga Kurylenko and Chris O’Donnell play solidly to type whilst as the villain of sorts Amaury Nolasco despite minimal dialogue manages to make a respectable impression.

“Max Payne” is pretty grim in tone, anger, death and revenge are the central themes present and those who prefer their cinema a little brighter might be advised to steer clear. It’s also worth noting that for a PG-13 actioner the film is remarkably violent, had I not known its certificate prior to viewing I’m confident I would have thought it R rated. The films biggest weakness is probably the occasionally horrible dialogue. Debut screenwriter Beau Thorne has adapted the sprawling videogame solidly into a 100 minute feature, but some of the individual lines he crafts are amateurish and incredibly stilted. The character of Mona is saddled with the majority of the clunkers which maybe goes someway to explaining why Kunis misfires in the role. However Thorne has to be backslapped for working in a few original concepts, and providing a director of Moore’s visual skill much to play around with.

The plot is filled with Nordic allusions and creepy hallucinogenic moments which along with the striking cinematography make for a truly spectacular visual show. Moore and cinematographer Jonathan Sela deserve major backslaps for assembling such an atmospheric New York setting, where the snow never stops falling and the dark tones and metallic iciness match Max’s forlorn spirit. When it comes to the drug fuelled visions Moore cranks it up to 11, filling he screen with screeching Valkyries, fiery skylines and tortured souls. This is the sort of upfront creativity I long to see more of in the movies, and in particular the action genre.

The action itself is well composed and mostly exciting; the film provides little dosages of violence for the first half before letting it all hang out in the second. The finale is particularly well orchestrated, without giving too much away we see the movie’s bombastic last moments through Max’s drug addled eyes and it adds an extra level of flair and high tail excitement to an already top notch sequence. It’s hard not to admire a picture so brazenly determined to excite the audience, yet it never lets go of the deep routed paranoia and tragedy that underlines the hero’s actions.

The movie is well paced and delivers a good amount of bang for an action junkie’s buck, but what makes it stand out against its peers is the creative imagery and well selected lead performer. “Max Payne” isn’t perfect but it’s definitely worth watching and in comparison to other game adaptations such as “Doom” and the horrendous “Super Mario Bros” it shoots leagues ahead. “Max Payne” isn’t just a thriller for the cyber nuts but rather a well executed picture for the masses.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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