Review of Max Payne

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Mark Wahlberg plays the title character in this action movie derived from a video game. Payne is a New York City police detective who is obsessed with finding the killer of his wife and child. He is joined by a Russian woman (Mila Kunis) seeking justice for the slaying of her sister.
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Movie Review: "Max Payne"

-- Rating: R (violence, including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality, brief strong language)
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: October 17, 2008
Directed by: John Moore
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

"Max Payne" is the film adaptation of the popular video game by the same name, which is a shooting action game. The film version lives up to the name and offers plenty of chases and gun fights.

The story begins with Max (Mark Wahlberg), a New York City cop who is still reeling from the murders of his wife and child. He is too bent on revenge to see that his bloodlust is consuming his life. He takes a job on the cold case unit just so he can use work time to try and solve his family's murder without anyone thinking he is loafing around. He follows up on every lead, but to no avail.

While following up on those fruitless leads, he runs into all kinds of interesting characters on the streets. One of them is Natasha (Olga Kurylenko), a Russian woman who soon ends up dead. Max decides to take her case on, even though he hasn't been assigned to it. As he begins to piece together the clues left behind, he realizes that her death may actually have a link to the death of his wife and child.

With this realization, you get your first glimpse of Max really seeming alive. Suddenly, the almost permanent scowl on his face and wrinkled forehead seem to disappear. The machinations of an ace detective's mind take their place as Max tries to solve the crime. While doing so, he runs into Natasha's grieving sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), who is also intent on finding her sister's killer.

Mona and Max make a great team. He knows how to solve crimes, and she knows how to kick some behind. Mona is a strong, confident woman who is a fighter and a survivor. In many video games, women are reduced to eye candy. Though Mona does wear some tight outfits, looking pretty is not her primary function within the framework of the film. It is a refreshing change of pace from the usual video game fare, and it's part of what sets "Max Payne" apart.

Max and Mona find out that a top-secret government drug called Valkyr may have played a part in the deaths of their loved ones. People who take it develop superpowers but also begin having hallucinations of winged demons, which may lead them towards violence. The origin of the drug is a mystery, one that Max and Mona must figure out to bring the murderers to justice. Brawls, chases and gunshots ensue as the heroes seek revenge and to solve both cases before someone catches them murdering the thugs who get in their way.

The film is visually striking in many ways, not the least of which is the general lighting throughout the film. Director John Moore clearly wanted to stay faithful to the film's video game roots, and he did a fine job. He enlisted cinematographer Jonathan Sela to give the film gray tones that make the New York City setting look more like Gotham City from the "Batman" films. Everything is shades of darkness, and shadows lurk around nearly every corner.

The film also employs the video game trope of seeing things from the perspective of one of the other characters. Though much of the movie follows Max's point of view, occasionally the point of view switches to the drug addicts who are taking the Valkyr. They are of course seeing the winged demons, which makes for a stunning sequence of hallucinations. The film clocks in at 100 minutes, but a few more of these eye-popping scenes would be welcome, even if the movie ran a little longer.

The performances are all solid, especially from Beau Bridges, who plays BB Hensley, Max's confidante. Bridges has a world-weary look that fits in perfectly with the dark coloring and foreboding feel of the film. Chris "Ludacris" Bridges is equally good as the internal affairs cop who is tasked with keeping an eye on Max, but he instead becomes one of Max's staunchest allies.

Once the credits start to roll, be sure to watch until the end. There is an extra scene that sets up the film for a possible sequel. Whether or not that sequel is ever made, "Max Payne" can stand alone as a visually stunning action film that does right by the video game that inspired it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars