Blu-ray Review: Max Payne (2008) -- Unrated 2-Disc Version

Seeking Audiences With a Vengeance
On Fox DVD, Blu-ray
& Amazon On Demand

No Payne, No Gain


To begin, I must confess to gamers that I'm more inclined to opt for Miss Pacman over Max Payne. Although, when it came to the film version, I knew one thing would be certain and that was-- to misquote the title of one of 2007's best films-- "There Will Be Bullets."

In transferring the neo-noir shooting game to the screen, a major challenge seemed to be the lack of audience control. In other words, no longer could we lock and load to bust down doors and fire at will any villains who crossed our path as Max Payne on his quest for justice to find the person responsible for the murder of his wife and daughter. No, instead, we just had to sit back and watch. Would it be enough or would our trigger fingers twitch from lack of X-box controls?

Bullets still fly of course and so, in the same vein of Sin City and Death Sentence, director John Moore (The Omen, Behind Enemy Lines) opted for a gritty hyper-real gun-metal color scheme that emphasized the darkness of the character's bloody quest as well as a preference for-- in the vein of classic noir-- filming mostly at night when the bogeyman come out to play, so to speak.

Cinematographer John Sela, production designer Daniel T. Dorrance and Moore revealed in Payne's press notes their initial wish to film the entire movie in black and white (which obviously would be a studio nightmare and unpopular choice for ticket buyers) so instead they "pushed the palette as far they could, with hard light, long shadows, and very graphic compositions."

Noting that they never used lights with color, favoring instead the most monochromatic look possible as Sela acknowledges, the filmmakers state that although the game itself is highly cinematic and largely noir inspired, they hesitated to use too much CGI.

As Detective Max Payne (a terrific Mark Wahlberg) goes on his Charles Bronson like mission through the underworld for three years trying to obtain any shred of evidence remaining on the unsolved murders of his wife and daughter--now relegated to working in the cold case room at the police station-- he begins to realize there are some fantastical elements at play.

Soon he becomes acquainted with a group of Russians including Quantum of Solace's Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (whose exquisite beauty in this film recalls a young Sophia Loren) and her sister played by Mila Kunis (who intriguingly was finally able to use her native Russian language). Moreover, in doing so, Payne also discovers that somehow embroiled into the complicated mystery that led to the murders is a pharmaceutical-engineered street drug, a group of characters all with a mysterious winged tattoo and murders that are believed to have been carried out by otherworldly creatures.

And intriguingly, as Payne's production notes share, puppetry was used for "creature wings" whenever possible in lieu of digital effects which would've probably been the obvious choice for a "video game movie." Additionally, given the film's prerequisite shoot-outs that required "bullet-time extreme slow-motion process" utilizing the "special motion camera system called Phantom," which Moore explains is "basically a digital hard drive that can shoot up to a thousand frames a second," Moore notes that he took great steps to ensure the look of Payne wouldn't seem too derivative or overly-familiar for those acquainted with something a bit similar in the films by The Wachowski Brothers as well as John Woo.

The results of the Phantom camera are impressive indeed but honestly, I found that it seemed more about showing off-- particularly in one concluding finale-- than about adding to the story and felt that overall, the visual look of the film is so superior (especially in its eye-popping Blu-ray quality) that I was more blown away by the film noir mood and visual look of the piece than the expensive gun trickery of slowing down one crucial bullet so that it takes forever to land.

Instead, noir lovers will get lost in the spectacular sweep of the production design and cinematography of the extended night sequences which Moore notes incorporated the Gaelic saying "cobhoh an dolra which means that nature is understanding your mood, that nature has a sympathy for you... what a better way to reflect Max Payne's mood than to have everything dark or shadowy until finally, at the end, the sun breaks into his life. The winter is his ally; this is a guy who hides in shadows, darkness envelopes him everywhere."

And in stark contrast to the darkness is the gorgeous usage of snow which producer Julie Yorn described as being brought out "to create a kind of epic, operatic feeling, in the way it interacts with Max and defines some of his actions." The result is beyond compare and all the more impressive when we're shown a flashback to the day Payne's life was changed forever by the crime which is filmed in nostalgic yellow and gold tones as he smiles (for the only time in the enter film) entering his house without realizing what awaits him.

In this and in all the rest, the film itself is eye-candy, succeeding on a purely visual level even when logically and intellectually sometimes it borders on the overly simplistic and or ridiculous at times, as the mystery is easily solved by the typical viewer less than twenty minutes in.

While it does seem timely and I admired a few of the plot twists including the pharmaceutical and military threads woven throughout and it's always great to see supporting stars like Donal Logue and Beau Bridges in something (even when their roles are minimal overall), structurally it's weak at best but elevated to sheer amazement when transferred to Fox Blu-ray.

Fox-- as they did with Transporter 2-- seem to be able to improve even the most mediocre films as though they were epics based on the excellent grasp they have of their technology. While the 2-disc Blu-ray edition offers viewers the chance to watch it in either its original PG-13 form or an unrated extended cut, also featuring audio commentary by the director, production designer and visual effects supervisor, it also boasts fans the opportunity to take advantage of the digital download feature which refreshingly is both Mac and PC compatible.

This probably comes at the great appreciation of the director who reveals in a mostly ho-hum and somewhat odd two-part making-of-featurette his fear that no one cares about extras or DVDs anymore since sales are down and people "just pirate 'em all."

However, Fox tries to prove him wrong by offering cutting edge technology during the film's Blu presentation itself offering players with the capability, the chance to use a picture-in-picture BonusView that screens the film and Behind the Scenes making of images with the director as it runs, along with a bonus Michelle Payne Graphic Novel.

Although one of the real "surprises" comes via the film itself as I must advise you to either sit through or fast forward the end credits in order to catch an extra scene featuring Wahlberg and Kunis that definitely foreshadows the possibility of a sequel... depending most likely of course, on DVD and Blu-ray sales, rentals, and demand performances.

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