Film Review – Max Payne


Get Max Payne from Amazon.com
Get Max Payne from Amazon.com

Video game-to-movie adaptations tend to be, as a general rule, hit or miss. It all depends on the type of game being chosen, and how the screenwriter and director work with the source material. The whole mess becomes even more tricky when you’re dealing with a game that borrows a lot from film, and multiple genres of film. Such is the case with the film adaptation of Max Payne, starring Mark Walberg, adapted from the game. There will be spoilers below the cut, after I get past The Premise.

The Premise:

Max Payne is a cop with the NYPD. When his wife and baby are murdered by drug addicts, Max throws himself into the pursuit of their murderers, to the point of going to the Cold Case squad when the trail runs cold, so he can continue working on the case. When he finds a lead 3 years after the murders, the trail it will take him on will leave him wondering who he can trust, and if he’ll ever be able to return to the force again.The Good:

The film nails the game’s visual style fantastically, not just in terms of the slow motion, but in terms of a lot of other things. The dark lighting, with stark contrasts between the brightly lit portions of the environment and the darker portions, a trademark of Film Noir (one of the film genres the game references). The color palette of the film also references the color palette of the graphical novel sections of the game, particularly the muted colors. They kind of pay homage to the snow-storm that was assaulting New York in the game, but it’s not as bad – the game was trying to continue the allusions to Norse Mythology, and Ragnarok, by referencing Fimbulvetr, the period of 3 winters without a summer that will preceed Ragnarock – I’ll get more into that later.

Mark Walberg’s performance in the film was panned as being rather stiff, but, really, the character of Max Payne was fairly stiff, and I can’t think of another actor who would work for Max. None at all.

The slow-motion is very nicely done, the CGI for the Valkyr induced hallucinations is excellently done. All in all, visually, this film is stunning, and this is one of the more visually striking and recent suspence thriller action films I’ve seen in quite some time.

The Bad:

Normally, I’m not too worried about the weapons people use in films, so long as they look cool. However, I have some problems with the weapons here. Max’s guns are fine, including the Taurus Judge, the only revolver that can fire regular bullets and shotgun shells without having to be heavily modified. However, I have a problem with, first, Mona Sax’s gun. In the games, Max and Mona each have their signature handguns, that they start out with. Max has a 9mm Baretta handgun, Mona has .50 Desert Eagle (also called the DEagle). In the film, Max has his Baretta, and his backup Big Freaking Revolver, which, as a fan of Togusa in the Ghost in the Shell films, I don’t have a problem with (if they had him inexplicably using a Mateba, I’d probably find it incredibly cool, though I’d doubt any US cop would use one).

Mona’s signature gun is  H&K MP5, which she uses either 2 handed or 1 handed. The problem with this being that it looks incredibly clumsy, particularly when she’s carrying it around, and it doesn’t really fit with the John Woo Heroic Bloodshed/Blood Opera films that that are the other movies the Max Payne games reference. In those films, the main characters have, as their primary weapon, a handgun, as a kind of modern day transposition of the swords carried by the heroes of Wuxia films (in Hong Kong) or of the knighs of old (in the West). This doesn’t mean that the heroes don’t use rifles, or shotguns, or submachine guns, but they always finish the job with a pistol, and you usually see them wielding a pistol over a SMG. Watch Hard Boiled, watch A Better Tommorow (1 & 2) and watch The Killer and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The Ugly:

The game had this excellent running motif of references to Ragnarok, the Norse end of the world, from Valkyr, to the Aesir Corporation, to Alfred Woden, to the snowstorm that referenced Fimbulvetr, as I mentioned previously. It added a lot of depth to the game aside from the simple quest to clear Max’s name, and find out the truth behind his family’s murder. However, Woden is absent from the film. The closest character to him, as far as a mentor/father figure character is BB, played by Beau Bridges, but that character doesn’t quite fit the role, as he’s ultimately the villain of the film. Jim Braveura (played decently by Ludacris) sort of works, but not exactly either, as he’s originally at odds with Max, but ends up on his side after he ends up stumbling upon some corruption of his own. There’s a Haitan gangster character in here, but I suspect he’s meant to be closer to the Vlademir Lem from the games (Max’s Russian Gangster ally), except he and Max never interact.

Aggrivating this is that we, as the viewer, learn information well before the main character has, to the point that the audience has figured almost everything out well before Max has. I’m not just talking here as someone whose played the game – as the film changes some things  so those who have played the game will still have some surprises as well. But we see fairly early on that Aesir is the company making Valkyr, because they have their company logo on the bottles of the drug, the equivalent of Pfizer branded Angel Dust. It really takes some of the depth from the film, and while the film is still able to kind of slosh along, it never achives it’s full potential because of these narrative mis-steps.

The Verdict:

This isn’t a great film, and I’m not shocked that it wasn’t nominated for any award (and I’m not upset that it wasn’t nominated for any awards), but it’s good. As far as video game movies go, this is probably the most visually striking of them. Yes, I haven’t seen Silent Hill, but I’ve seen footage of Silent Hill, and this really is probably one of the Video Game movies where, visually and auditorially, someone who hasn’t seen the game and hasn’t played video games will have something that will make them have to sit down and digest it. I’m going to reccomend this movie.

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