Justin Wincott (Josh Wiggins) is rudderless, coasting through his young, teenage life without a purpose or any level of responsibility. On the other hand, his older brother, Kyle (Robbie Amell), is a heroic Marine known for his honesty and courage, honored and loved by their parents, Ray (Thomas Haden Church) and Pam (Lauren Graham). But when his brother dies in the Middle East, his Belgian Malinois is sent back to the United States to the remaining Wincotts. They don’t know it yet, but Max’s arrival changes everything.
While Justin and Max get acquainted to each other, Justin continues to wrestle with the ramifications of his brother’s death, his father’s disapproval, and his burgeoning love interest in his cross-cultural crush, Carmen (Mia Xitlali), who happens to be his best friend’s (Dejon LaQuake) cousin. The family dynamics between Justin and his parents are nuanced, but the added love affair shows the inclusion, unity, and community are also on the table for Boaz Yakin’s script.
All of these relational issues are augmented or aggravated by the arrival of another soldier from Kyle’s unit, Tyler Harne (Luke Kleintank). While kids might not pick up on it right away, we’re clear that there’s something just a bit off about Harne. Even if we don’t know right away, Max’s dislike for Harne – the very smell of him – is apparent. Soon after his arrival, we learn that Harne is actually trafficking in weapons with a Mexican cartel.
While the film is rated PG and clearly aimed at recapturing the gentler, family-friendly pictures of ‘olden days,’ I found it captivating. I’m not much of an animal person myself but the careful use of Max as a character, and the family tension between Ray and Justin was played out in a way that added depth and feeling to the adventure. While this is certainly an ‘action flick’ designed to entertain, it has a fair number of things to say about human/animal bonding, family dynamics, and what it means to be courageous.
I found the level of Ray’s expectations for Justin to be reasonably… and disturbing at the same time. Fortunately, over the course of the film, their relationship undergoes a metamorphosis that occurs thanks to the grace they both experience from Max. What we can understand by watching is that they are both dealing with their own grief over Kyle’s death, and that they should be supporting each other rather than fighting against each other.
When we step back for a moment and consider our own lives, we might recognize that we often fight those we should be loving, that others are hurting, too, and that ultimately, we move forward when we do so together. This is community, this is redemption. When we forgive and move forward, we change the pattern of our lives and the way that we handle situations. This is becoming more Christlike in itself.
Can you identify your pain and make a difference?