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Max Payne : The Harder Cut (2008)

16th March 2009

Max Payne moves from the video game arena to the big screen as a rogue cop out for revenge for the brutal murder of his wife and family. Get ready for beautiful women, dark allies and plenty of gunfire.
Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Chris O'Donnell, Olga Kurylenko, Nelly Furtado
Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Suspense/Thriller
B
1 Hour 36 Minutes

Deep in the bowels of a New York city Police Department, veteran Detective Max Payne has been working the Cold Case unit for the past three years. Never resting, and outcast from the rest of the police department, the trigger happy Max is determined to find, and dish out some suitably violent retribution for, the brutal murderer of his beloved wife Michelle and child. Although he managed to gun down two of the assailants in his home, the ring leader was able to escape. Hell bent on revenge, Max won't let anyone stand in his way and his methods are not the usual way of dealing with the crime on the streets on New York, but if it gets the job done then Max won't change his methods to please his supervisors.

Still looking for new leads on the case, Max crashes a party run by his snitch where he meets the scantily clad Natasha Sax and her sister, Mona. Promising some information on the case Natasha and Max head back to his apartment where she shows a desire for something other than helping Max on the case. Naturally upset, Max throws Natasha out of his apartment and into the cold but, whilst walking back to the club and talking to her drug dealer on the phone for her next fix, Natasha is attacked and killed. Unaware of her fate, the following morning Max is called by his former partner Alex who calls him down to the crime scene. Alex pulls him to one side and informs him that his wallet was found on the dead girl and he's now the prime suspect. When this information reaches Natasha's sister Mona, she heads out for some retribution of her own.

Back in the warmth of his office, Alex discovers that a tattoo of wings found on Natasha's arm are very similar to the ones found on the assailants killed at the original crime scene in Max's apartment. Alex tries to contact Max but keeps getting his voicemail. When Max finally receives the message he rushes over to Alex's apartment, only to find him dead. Before he has chance to call in the police Max is attacked and left for dead. Waking up in hospital he's convinced that Alex's investigation is the key and he heads over to his office to search through his partner's files. It is here that Max learns that a man named Owen Greene was the last person Natasha called before her death. It looks like that trail may have just picked up a scent worth perusing.

It doesn't take long for Mona to find Max and after managing to convince her that they are looking for the same person they do something that Max doesn't like - join forces. The trail eventually leads to Aesir Pharmaceuticals and a mysterious, and dangerous, drug called Valkyrie - a drug that was meant to turn original soldiers into super soldiers. Unfortunately, it all went horribly wrong and, worse of all, his wife was a former employee of the company. Was she murdered because of something she knew? There's only one way to find out - and it's going to involve lots of gun fire and explosions that only Max Payne knows how to deal with.

The film is suppose to be dark - with dark rooms, dingy alleyways and a dark and foreboding skyline. With falling snow and incessant rail fall in a decidedly gloomy looking New York, it doesn't look out of place from Sin City. However, it's far better than Sin City as the visuals of Max Payne are simply fantastic. Given the myriad of dark and noir style locations, the image quality of the deliberately muted colours is pixel perfect with solid blacks and, when called for, an excellent range of bright and distinct colours in both the scenery, costumes and carefully crafted skin tones. The continuous snow and rain could cause pixelisation, outlining issues and jaggered edges, but the disc handles it all with ease and, given that it's a recent release with plenty of special effects (which, rather unfortunately, are a little spoilt by the clarity of the images) it's truly worthy of being amongst your demonstration discs.

Along with the fantastic picture transfer the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is just as impressive - and track that does justice to the Blu-Ray format. Unlike like plenty of other action films, Max Payne uses the rear channels to their maximum head turning potential. There's explosions, breaking windows and gun fire galore as the soundtrack pulls you deep into the action as the bullets ricochet all around you. If you thought that the standard DVD soundtrack was good, just wait until you hear what the Blu-ray version has to offer.

Unfortunately, Mark Wahlberg isn't the clearest speaker around and his voice can be lost in a big action film. However, the centre channel carries his voice extremely well and, together with some brilliant separation and stereo steerage in the front stereo channels and some ground shaking bass in the LFE channel, it manages to be what an action film should be - full of action and sound to go with it. Whilst it's not your full blown 7.1 soundtrack, it's certainly up there with some of the best currently available on Blu-Ray. It's just a pity that the sound is let down by the quality of the film and that so many people are going to miss out on an audio delight.

Unlike the rather dull menu on the DVD version, we have a rather simple, but nicely scored and animated menu of various guns firing and their spent cartridges flying around the screen. If it wasn't for the various menu options at the bottom of the screen you'd be easily forgiven if you were under the impression you'd just loaded a video game. Whilst the Blu-Ray disc contains more extras than the DVD, they're still fairly thin on the ground with only an Audio Commentary, a Picture-in-Picture feature plus two background Featurettes. I just wonder whether its relative failure at the box office meant that less money was available for the extras.

The main extra on the disc is the Audio Commentary with director John Moore, Production Designer Daniel Dorrance and Visual Effects Supervisor Everett Burrell. The guys have plenty to say and there's hardly a silent moment throughout the film. There's plenty of technical detail on the various scenes and locations, the special effects and some information about actors and actresses in the film. All in all, it's a great listen and a great insight into the making of a film. It's just a pity that other audio commentaries can't be as insightful and interesting as this one - it's a definite bonus, and much needed, plus point for the overall value of the package.

The featurettes can be found on the Special Features menu where a Featurette has been split into two parts - both running for around thirty minutes each and equipped with subtitles and filmed in standard definition. The first of the featurettes looks at the people behind the film (and in front of the camera) and it concentrates on the actual production. The rather chubby director John Moore (who knows something about remakes - he directed The Omen and The Flight of the Phoenix) starts things off with plenty of swearing about creating DVD extras and goes on to provide plenty of gestures to the camera (which is not a particularly good way of promoting the film or bonding with the fans). Still, the value of the material is excellent - and well produced too.

Part two of the featurette spends more time concentrating on the film set. More interesting than the first, there's also plenty of interviews with pretty much every cast member going - including the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Chris O'Donnell, Mila Kunis and Olga Kurylenko. With the majority of behind-the-scenes featurettes like this looking like one long press junket, it's refreshing to find all of the stars being interviewed on set in between their shots. Sure, there's the usual waffle about their motivation for their character but once you get this out of the way it progresses to look at the other crew members - even the lesser members who tend to be ignored - who helped create the film. Whilst the disc is hardly bursting with extras these extras do prove some interest and insight into the production - even if they are accompanied by a rather annoying musical score.

If you have a BonusView enabled player then you can access the Walkthrough and Cheats BonusView Picture-in-Picture feature. In your now rather typical Blu-Ray PiP feature, at selected points during the film a popup window will appear in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and give you the opportunity to view some background detail on the scene - be it be make up, filming techniques or special effects. Once the scene is complete it will then automatically disappear until the next point of interest. If this becomes annoying then viewing the standard featurettes on the disc will offer the same information. Finally, filmed in HD, there's a Graphic Novel that offers some additional information how, and why, Max Payne's wife Michelle was killed. However, if you don't want your enjoyment of the film to be spoiled then I suggest you save this until after watching the film.

After other video game to screen adaptations, such as Resident Evil, Doom and Hitman, I wasn't really expecting too much from Max Payne. It was an assumption that turned out to be pretty much spot on. The film opened at the box office with good audience figures (probably thanks to plenty of advertising and fans of the original game who rushed to see it on the big screen) and it ended up taking around $60 million dollars worldwide (not too bad when you consider its budget was an estimated $35 million dollars). Whilst the box office takings were a similar amount to previous video game adaptations (and unfortunately figures which may hint of a possible sequel) it still suffers from the same lack of direction. Weirdly, it also reveals just how brain dead the audience can be.

The critics didn't like it too either and, after seeing the film for the first time on DVD and Blu-Ray, I can see why as I sat for over an hour baffled at just what the heck was going on. I guess it helps to know the general plot of the original video game (which I haven't a clue - running around shooting people perhaps?) but it looked like they were making it up as they went along with a puzzling storyline, poorly chosen actors (apart from the excellently cast Mark Wahlberg - the bonkers roles really do suit him), awful and clichéd dialogue and a conclusion so obvious that they may as well have saved you some time and told you "who dunnit" during the opening credits. A sequel - and possible further video game spin off looked distinctly possible too.

Never the less, Max Payne does at least try and fans of the game, genre and/or graphic novels such as Sin City, will probably be more than happy to pick up this Blu-Ray (or even DVD). The special effects are certainly interesting - and a definite plus point for the retail market - whilst the rain and snow covered streets dark are mysterious and the deserted streets perhaps make a nod to the computer game and it's lack of active background detail. They also look truly stunning in high-definition and enough to make you gasp at the clarity (even if some of the special effects look a little obvious).

I always like to try and find a positive in a film and in the case of Max Payne it has to be that. Whilst it ultimately failed to grab the desired theatrical audience, its true home is on our favourite shiny formats. With the many dark - almost film noir - scenes, special effects (the good old bullet-time scene is present and correct) and additional extras on this Blu-Ray version, it's probably worth splashing out that little extra quid for the high-definition version.

  • Audio Commentary by Director John Moore, Production Designer Daniel Dorrance and Visual Effects Supervisor Everett Burrell
  • BonusView "Walkthrough and Cheats" Making Max Payne
  • Making of Featurettes
  • Animated Graphic Novel - Story of Michelle Payne
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