Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) is a maverick cop determined to track down those responsible for the brutal murders of his family and partner. Hell-bent on revenge, his obsessive investigation takes him on a journey into a dark underworld where he is forced to battle enemies beyond the natural world. As he investigates a series of mysterious murders that could be tied to the death of his wife and child, he discovers there are forces, both real and beyond imagination, that are conspiring to keep the devastating truth hidden. Joining Payne in this strange otherworld are Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), a beautiful Russian mobster and assassin; her wild-child younger sister Natasha (Olga Kurylenko), Detective Jim Bravura (Chris Ludacris Bridges), and Max’s mentor, B.B (Beau Bridges). “This film is not Minimum Payne or Medium Payne, it’s Max Payne,” sums up John Moore, the Dublin born, former advertisment director who’s fast climbing the Hollywood ladder.
Moore, a gifted visual stylist who received serious acclaim for his debut, Behind Enemy Lines in 2005, uses subjective camera in the film – putting the audience directly in Max’s world and in his head, as well as the use of state-of-the-art slow-motion cameras which hurtles audiences along with Max on a roller-coaster ride of action, mystery and supernatural-tinged imagery.
The videogame “Max Payne” had its global debut in 2001; a sequel game, “Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne,” followed in 2003. Critics and fans lauded the game’s stylish choreography and cinematic nature; the game’s dark, edgy scenes and slow-motion gunfights played out like a graphic novel with film noir influences. Few games translate well to the big screen, but from its inception it seemed as though the story of the hard-boiled cop out for revenge was destined to be played out on the big screen.
The filmmakers and studio entertained hundreds of story pitches until first-time screenwriter Beau Thorne came up with a take on the material that resonated with all. The otherwordly elements added by Thorne include a winged demon that threatens Max and dispatches others to an unimaginable fate. Drawn from Norse mythology, the demon Valkyrie represents a critical clue in Max’s pursuit of those who destroyed his family. Throughout the story, the demon – or elements of it – permeates the action: we hear the thunderous pounding of enormous flapping wings and get tantalizing glimpses almost lost in the shadows. Graffiti featuring a “V” pierced with a hypodermic can be seen throughout the film, as well as tattooed wings that brand some of the key characters.
Stunningly shot in a ‘colour noir’ process, Max Payne is a movie where the emphasis is more on style than substance. Like Decker in Blade Runner, Max inhabits a city bathed in perpetual twilight where snow and rain are the constant climatic elements – a device that adds further to the film’s noir inclinations. Max likes leather in the form of a biker jacket – a fetish Mona follows suit on when she draws a machine gun from under her porn shop-style ensemble to blow away another baddie. Wahlberg plays Max much like Bruce Willis in Sin City – a 40s gangster-ish rasp and constant frown in keeping with the weather.
Yet, for all of its shortcomings under the microscope of traditional storytelling, Max Payne does score heavily for its sheer gusto and dramatic exposition. The plot may only be skin deep, but the action and atmosphere keeps us engaged regardless of how preposterous the scene becomes. Another major step upward for the Dublin born Moore.