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Max Payne (2008) Director John Moore 16 November 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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Best trailer of the year so far?

I have to declare myself an interested party in the case of Max Payne. I am a huge fan of the 2001 computer game and remember fondly getting it the day it came out way back when and being blown away by the magnificent slow-mo gun play, but more so by the game’s wonderful film-noir atmosphere, the gripping plot and the brilliant realisation of Max through extensive voice over narration. In fact the game was so effortlessly cinematic at times it’s hard to imagine how an adaptation on the big screen could get it wrong, and while Moore’s Payne isn’t a complete failure it certainly isn’t the adaptation fans were hoping for.

Mark Wahlberg stars as the eponymous Payne, an NYPD homicide detective who’s career nose dived to the bottom of the barrel after the murder of his wife and child. After a chance encounter with Quantum of Solace Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko ends up in her grusome demise Max finds a new lead in his quest to solve the case consuming his life, a new drug on the streets called Valkyr. Also along for the ride are Beau Bridges as BB Hensley, ex-partner of Max’s father and now working as head of security for the Aesir Pharmaceuticals company, Mila Kunis as Mona Sax, out to avenge the death of her sister Kurylenko and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as Jim Bravura, the internal affairs agent investigating Max’s case.

The plot is relatively simple and follows the main developments in the game pretty admirably. There are some pretty big changes (primarily the hallucinations of winged creatures that the valkyr addicts see in the film version – presumably because they look cool) but the biggest loss in the transition is the voice over. Admittedly voice overs in films are generally not a good idea but it works so well in the game it’s hard to imagine it falling flat in an over stylised film like this anyway.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me in watching Payne was the real lack of any decent action set pieces. By my count there were two: a shoot out with a SWAT team in the Aesir building (which comes almost an hour into the film) and the climactic shoot out in the same building. For an adaptation based on a game whose main selling point was bullet time shoot outs it’s almost unforgivable that the film should be so lacking in quality action scenes.

Never the less Moore nails the film noir atmosphere of the game pretty much perfectly, the snow covered New York looking more beautiful than the game’s creators could ever hope to achieve. The film is technically well made with some nice visual flourishes but it’s nothing special and little more than an audience would expect from a big budget, glossy action film in the era of the music video director.

The performances are unfortunately all below par. Wahlberg, an actor who I like but can say he has been good in only two films (Boogie Nights and The Departed), is all frowns and no emotion. He looks the part but never delivers on what should have been an emotionally charged portrayal of a man on the cusp of avenging his wife and child. Beau Bridges rings it in, as does Chris Bridges while Mila Kunis was so improbably mis-cast it’s no wonder the role of Sax, prominent in the game, has been reduced to all but nothing here. The film also has a supporting cast of Hollywood bit players Chris O’Donnell (Batman and Robin really ruined his career) and Donal Logue as well as a bizarre cameo from singer Nelly Furtado.

Although not an outright failure Max Payne fails to deliver on the potential it had in bucket fulls. It was never going to be The Godfather, or even Mad Max for that matter, but had Moore and first time screen writer Beau Thorne added in a satisfactory action quotient and a decent voice over they might have had the first truly successful video game adaptation on their hands. As it is Max Payne stands out as an achievement in style over substance and further proof that maybe Hollywood should finally reconsider adapting games for the big screen.

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