He thinks cuss words and illegally burns games for pocket money and has a Mexican friend. He’s troubled in a most untroubled way‘ – Dara Higgins on Max, the story of a boy, his family, and their PTSD suffering ex-Marine dog

Do you have a tumble dryer? Good. Now, get some stones. Big ones. Maybe half a brick. Throw them in. Turn it on. Hear that? That’s clunky, isn’t it? Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Yep, clunky. Don’t actually put stones in your tumble dryer. That will fuck that fucker up. This is just a metaphor. A clunky one. Keep it in mind.

Max is a war dog. One of thousands to serve his country overseas. You can tell him apart from the other grunts by the fact he doesn’t have tattoos, but that’s it. For all intents and purposes, Max is warrior, sniffing out arms caches and pumping ‘roids like one of the guys. That is until it all goes tits up, and his handler, Kyle, gets terminated by the Taliban in an ambush that Max sort of saw coming, but Kyle’s sergeant, his childhood brah Reese or Tyler or Chip or something, dismissed as pure dog-shit. Man, is he regretting that.

Back home in the good ‘ol US of A, Kyle’s family learn the news. Dearie me, but it couldn’t have come at worse time because the younger kid, Justin, well, he’s a bit of a handful. He thinks cuss words and illegally burns games for pocket money and has a Mexican friend. He’s “troubled” in a most untroubled way. It’s not clear if he even has any thoughts. Oh, and he can cycle. Wow.

Max, the dog you’ll recall, turns up at the funeral, and howls in front of the flag draped coffin. Cue a deep treatise on war, manhood and especially grief. A look within the American Dream as it is rent apart by the pointless death of a young man in his prime, riddled by insurgent lead in a land thousands of miles away, in a war waged by stentorian old men in the name of ancient fossils fuels. Peek inside the womb-shattering anguish of a mother who has outlived her progeny. Sympathise with the family as they put one face, Janus like, to the community, and pretend that Kyle’s sacrifice was necessary to protect the freedom that they and their friends take for granted. Salty tears cascade as they wail in private…WHY WHY WHY do we do these things! WHY DID THEY TAKE MY BOY!

Yeah, none of that happens. In fact apart from a tear or two the family recover remarkably quickly. Not once do they wonder why it happened. How it happened is touched upon, but why…naw. It’s a given. It’s the price that must be paid, and there’s a pride there. Our son died so that we can walk around the streets with a handgun in our pants, and we can live in this enormous house and what have you. Sacrifices must be made, and if they happen on the other side of the world, all the better. Nobody wants that shit all up in their grill while they’re eating their Cheetos.

Anyhoo, for reasons that apparently happen, the US Marines allow an intensely schooled and somewhat unhinged warrior dog, that’s probably been trained to kill, live with this family of gormless goons. What’s more they get the smallest of them to look after him. Some bonding occurs. Music, rendered on heartstrings and swelling breastophone tells us we should be emotional at this point or that point. Child and father, a Vet(eran….) himself, played by Thomas Haden Church and thus hard to take seriously, are at odds. Not screaming and shouting and fists raised and beer spilled kind of odds. There’s no rage. They’re barely even miffed. You’d imagine the intensity of their exchanges would be the same if they were discussing who left the milk out of the fridge, rather than who’s looking after the PTSD suffering dog that used to serve in the war with the dead son who was ripped apart by bullets defending the right to have a BBQ on top of your Chevy as its driving BECAUSE FUCKING USA THAT’S WHY.

There’s some kind of plot that involves selling weapons to the Cartel, Reese or Tyler or Chip or whatever returning home, and some guns going off. Justin’s Mexican love interest says things like “Mexicans aren’t a race” and “you can’t have a reward unless you do something good” and a sergeant in the US Marines goes through the personal service records of another marine at the behest of a ten year old, because that’s how Uncle Sam operates and there’s some message about not having to go abroad, because let’s face it, the real enemy is right on our doorstep and that enemy is the split second you dropped your guard and America turned into a fucking sewer. Never drop your guard. Have a vicious dog. Carry your weapon with you everywhere. Cheer at the end. Wave a flag. Let off some fireworks. Fucking hell. CLUNK. CLUNK. CLUNK. I better go fix that tumble dryer.


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