DVD of the Week – Review of Max Payne (2008)
by HELEN GEIB
I would not have known Max Payne was based on a video game if I hadn’t read about it beforehand. The story plays out like it had been written for the screen, or at any rate, like it had been written for the page and then brought to the screen. What I would have guessed was that it was based on a comic book. More specifically, that it was derived, at not too far a remove, from The Punisher.
The biggest difference between Max Payne (played by Mark Wahlberg) and Frank Castle a/k/a The Punisher is that Max hasn’t gone insane. He has been mired in a deep depression and borderline suicidal since his wife and baby were murdered in their home by an unknown assailant, but he hasn’t gone crazy. He is obsessed with tracking down his family’s killers. While he’s held onto his day job in the police department’s cold case file room, he spends his nights following tenuous leads into the city’s underbelly.
Everything I know about the “Max Payne” video game I learned from watching the movie, so I can’t speak to the film’s fidelity to its source. I can say that if the film is a faithful adaptation, then the game is part of the industry’s trend towards more cinematic narratives and character development. The plot of Max Payne is familiar with the familiarity of a typical Hollywood revenge-driven thriller. The film is spiced with numerous action scenes, corporate America is depicted as a criminal syndicate, and there’s a science fiction angle to the mystery’s solution, but those are hardly unusual elements in mainstream films these days and at heart, this is your basic ‘grief-stricken man brings wrongdoers to justice and finds emotional closure’ movie.
It’s a nicely done example of its type. I liked Wahlberg’s performance in the lead and Beau Bridges’ turn as the more to him than meets the eye family friend. There’s good variety in the staging of the action scenes and a good number of twists and turns in the plot. The film looks good too, with a dark, somber palette appropriate to the darkness consuming its hero’s life and soul.
The most serious criticism to be made is the wasted potential in the female lead, a higher-up in the Russian mafia. (Some of the plot points are implausible, but in a movie like this, that’s only a minor criticism.) She is introduced as a tough, strong woman who can hold her own in a man’s movie, and then given nothing to do but look pretty.