There’s some deeply weird stuff going on around the edges of what is otherwise a standard coming-of-age/boy-and-his-dog story, about a Marine-trained German shepherd named Max whose handler is killed in action in Kandahar, and is brought back stateside to Texas to be taken in by the dead soldier’s family: his tough, wounded veteran dad (Thomas Haden Church), patient mom (Lauren Graham), and younger brother, Justin (Hellion’s talented Josh Wiggins). Director/co-writer Boaz Yakin offers up just enough flag-waving and God-talking to indicate he’s aiming squarely for the heartland, while also dropping into the middle of it a startlingly cynical perspective on the way nations use soldiers. And while there’s solid material here about troubled Justin learning responsibility even as he discovers romance and hard truths about the world, it’s also a movie that spends much of its running time on an illegal international arms deal, and shows Max as a dog who makes independent tactical decisions to gain strategic advantage over another dog. The solid construction of the suspense-thriller elements only make it feel stranger that, deep down, Max doesn’t want us to think of it as a suspense thriller.
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