From the ground up the Max Payne video games were always intended to be cinematic experiences. The first game was heavily influenced by Hong Kong action movies. The sequel was dubbed a ‘Film Noir Love Story’ while the third, and as of yet last, entry in the franchise was inspired by films such as Tropa de Elite. Before Fox announced they were producing a Max Payne movie back in 2008, we were already treated with various independent film projects (some released, some still unreleased) made by fans who each tried their best to transform the video game into a moving picture.
While I was feeling a bit reserved about Fox’s production, I was stoked either way. There was simply no way they could mess up a project like this. From my point of view, Max Payne could’ve been the first really successful videogame-to-movie adaptation. I mean, for a cinematic action game that was inspired to enormous extent by movies, it could have essentially functioned as a blueprint for a Hollywood blockbuster. It had it all; a well thought through story, enough room for drama and action, interesting characters and iconic music. Unfortunately, the scriptwriters Fox hired took some creative liberties and turned the story completely upside down. The blunt performances by Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis didn’t help the movie much either. To make matters worse, the movie was also missing some key elements that made the game so special. Fans were left disappointed.
You Play, You Pay, You Bastard.
Here at PayneReactor we have a deep love for all sorts of media that feature a strong male lead. We’re not accustomed at writing movie reviews though. I know Kristian wrote a small review of the Max Payne movie back in the day, but that was about it. Since you’ve undoubtedly read the title of this article, you know what is coming next. The following statements are in no way whatsoever based on cinematography insights, knowledge or experience. But I consider this a good thing. This is just fan’s opinion. One that could probably start an substantiated discussion about how Max Payne should be adapted to the big screen.
I’ll be honest here. I’ve been friends with the writer and director of Payne & Redemption (Fergle Gibson) for many, many years now. In some years we’ve talked more than others but our common love for the Max Payne franchise as well as other interests have always kept us connected. I’ve probably seen more pre-release footage of that project than any other soul and for that I’m grateful. However, the production values of that production have always been insanely high (They had people on board that’d worked on James Bond movies for example). Perhaps too high, which is probably the main reason it hasn’t seen the light of day yet. While I like to believe Payne & Redemption will be released in the near future, we have to accept the reality that with each passing day it’s becoming less and less probable. I must admit that all the pre-release footage Gibson showed me has left me somewhat biased when it comes to fan created films. The bar was set high and it could’ve influenced my opinion about this project. The fanfilm made by Zapruder Pictures was certainly a treat (their Red Dead Redemption fan film is much, much better) but couldn’t match Payne & Redemption, apart from actually being released. Max Payne: Bloodbath is also worthy to mention. It might be short but it has a very unique style that blends all three games together. Be that as it may there is no denying we haven’t seen a decent Max Payne movie yet.
Past the Point of no Return.
When the crew from Max Payne Retribution pitched their project to me I giggled at first. Right, I thought, here’s another project so ambitious that it will probably fade in oblivion as time passes. Nevertheless I offered them my full support as I’m an avid supporter of projects initiated by members from the Max Payne community. After all, our passion for the franchise is what the community is all about. And what keeps it alive to this day. Still, I’m sure you’ll understand I was a bit skeptical until they had some footage to show for it. Each milestone the team shared with me and with each milestone I gained more and more trust in the project.
“Max Payne Retribution has a duration of 44 minutes, making it the longest Max Payne fan film to date.”
When the team launched a Indiegogo campaign, they essentially passed the point of no return. I was surprised to see the project being endorsed by Katy Thong (the actress that portrays Mona Sax in Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne) and decided to help fund the project. Fast forward one year into the future and the film is about to be released to the public. As a token of appreciation for the years of support, the producer of the film (Chloe Chudasama) granted me access to an early screening of the film. On a dark and windy Friday evening I closed the blinds, poured in some whiskey and watched the film from start to finish. When the credits rolled I was honored to see PayneReactor was mentioned there. The million dollar question now is though.. after years of anticipation.. how was it?!
Max Payne Retribution has a duration of 44 minutes, making it the longest Max Payne fan film to date. It’s about the same duration as an episode from your favorite TV show sans commercials. Director Leroy Kincaide recently revealed that he has plans to pitch a Max Payne inspired TV show to Netflix. If you take these comments and the duration into consideration I feel that Max Payne Retribution, as a whole, could be considered as an episode from one of the early seasons of this show. It has similar elements and pacing of a TV show too. After a short introduction it starts with a beautiful title card animation and from there the film leads up to a big cliffhanger. I can’t shake the feeling that the plot and the characters were meant for something bigger. One film alone wouldn’t do it justice. Don’t get me wrong, the film stands just fine on its own. Though, some elements (like John Campling’s character) would have benefited from having more screen time, or another episode.
The film is packed with references to the game. In fact, you could consider it a 44 minute homage to the Max Payne games. It’s amazing, really. Everything is crammed in there! Kong whiskey, Valkyr, Aesir, quotes from the game, Poets of the Fall, Bullet time, Address Unknown, Max’s monologue, Painkillers, the heartbeat sound effect and Flashbacks. Have I forgotten something? It’s something I know Payne fans will appreciate.
The Plot Thickens
The plot of the film is as follows; Mona Sax seeks out Max Payne as she has acquired incriminating information regarding Jack Lupino’s drug trade business and possibly new information about his wife’s killing. Lupino on the other hand is trying to prevent the files from falling into the wrong hands and starts a manhunt for Sax. It doesn’t take long for his goons to abduct her. When Max learns of her disappearance and the new information, he seeks out Lupino for retribution.
You see, even Kincaide was forced to take some creative liberties to make sure it would all fit in the planned running time. Makes sense considering the budget (a mere £1500!) and tools they had available. Kincaide also admitted in a Q&A that he felt the need to introduce new characters to the universe (like Curtis Draven, played by John Campling) in order to prevent other characters not receiving enough screentime. Campling’s performance is amazing and leaves you with the urge to learn more about his character. After enjoying Campling’s killer performance towards Mona, I would’ve loved to see a confrontation between him and Max. The absence of said confrontation is truly a miss. Max kills him off-screen.
“Campling’s performance is amazing and leaves you with the urge to learn more about his character.”
The 44 minute run time also allows for one big plot hole right after Mona’s abduction. Max just seems to know where she is located as soon as she disappears. When the two meet Mona even asks Max “How did you know I was here?” and Max simply replies; “I just knew”. It’s a smart way to fix a big jump in the plot, but it definitely allowed for more story development. According to the crew, there are actually some hints in the film that might make this plot jump more clear (the dates on Max’s watch and information shown from Mona’s file), but they were not apparent to me at first.
Next to Campling’s character, Max, Mona and Lupino are all presented as people that could have considerable backstories. Meaning, we get to know them right in the middle of their adventure. The movie doesn’t really go into detail about their history though. Fans will obviously know right away but newcomers to the franchise might need to check up on these characters first to better understand the way they’re connected. I feel as if this could have been fixed with adding some more monologue or flashbacks scenes. Who exactly is Mona Sax and what is her importance to Max? She’s being presented as a possible love interest to Max -which is enough to care for her- but her history and significance are absent. Again, understandable considering the time and tools available. With Lupino it’s a bit more clear. His hostile intent and dialogue do make him the bad guy of the movie. He’s being portrayed as a more evolved version of Amaury Nolasco’s from the 2008 Max Payne film. In the video game Jack Lupino was a deranged hillbilly. In Retribution, Lupino (played by Kincaide himself) is a ripped, Latino, devil-worshiping mobster boss with similar Valkyr facial tattoos as Nolasco’s. Quite fitting if not for his appearance. Definitely not someone you’d want to mess with though. Max Payne is probably the most relatable character, the viewer gets a clear idea of his struggles through flashbacks and dream sequences. These sequences can be confronting, making you root for the character to succeed. Joan James Muixi‘s portrayal of Max Payne thus is quite decent. He seems to mix various elements from the first two games in this role. Max is thoughtful, cynical and determined. Just as you came to expect.
Visually the film also hits some high notes. It’s a treat for your eyes. The effects, color grading and extremely detailed props have been very well executed. I’ve even been told by Kincaide that these are to be further improved for the final version. The film is very moody and atmospheric. It’s incredible to see what the crew was able to pull off considering the small studios/area’s they had to work with. The bullet time effects in this flick are superb and unlike any other film has ever managed to do. Hollywood productions included. As you might recall, bullet time as it was implemented in the 2008 movie was particularly bad. It’s one of the highlights from an exciting action sequence, it grabs your attention and only lets you go when the cliffhanger kicks in. I’m quite convinced this will make the hardcore Max Payne fan drool.
When it comes to the actual filming – the camera work, I noticed the film consists mostly of close-up shots. It’s far from distracting but it’s something you might notice along the ride. Be that as it may, the film also contains various artistic shots that are very symbolic and artistic. When you’ll reach a certain scene in a hotel room, you’ll know exactly what I am referring to. No spoilers.
Let the Film do the Talking.
In closing, Max Payne Retribution certainly deserves the title of ‘Best Max Payne fan film’. Without a doubt it’s even one of the best fan films out there in general. I do, however, not really see it going head to head with the 2008 film. For it to be called a ‘film’ it lacks some essential character and story developments. If you would consider it a TV show episode though, it EXCELS. In this regard it’s more than perfect. It gave me the same feeling as a Breaking Bad episode did. I craved for more. I wanted more Draven, to see what happens after the cliffhanger, to see what happened before this story. Will I ever?
A fan produced production that does bullet time better than a million dollar Hollywood production? That alone deserves credit. Take into account the small budget the team had to work with and then wonder what they could have achieved with a tenfold of that. Since the visuals and props are so well executed, I can only hope Kincaide’s venture of getting the opportunity to work on a Max Payne TV show soon becomes a reality. I could totally see it work with this as a proof of concept. The universe and atmosphere he created are perfect for this set up. It contains all the right nods to the video game too to get the necessary fan support. And given the chance, it could become so much more.