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The much-anticipated Warner Brothers/MGM film Max opened last Friday, bringing in $12.2 million from the box office over the weekend. We got the chance to see the movie last week (and we talked to the dog trainer—read that interview here), and as much as we loved the flick, we couldn’t help but reflect on the Hollywood-like stories that may have inspired this film.

Like Jon Tumilson. His story was reminiscent in the heartbreaking scene when Max ran up to the coffin of his fallen handler and lay in front of the casket for the duration of the ceremony. In real life, Tumilson, a Navy SEAL, was one of 30 American military members killed when a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. At his funeral, his Labrador Retriever, Hawkeye, was photographed lying in front of the casket. Since then, a bronze statue was put up honoring Tumilson and Hawkeye in Rockford, Illinois. See the full story here.

Now back to the film. After the funeral, Max, who suffers from PTSD, was retired from service and sent to live with his handler’s family and their young son. That’s likely based on the story of Eli, whose handler, 20-year-old Colton Rusk, was killed by Taliban sniper fire. Also a Labrador Retriever (not a Belgian Malinois like Max), Eli was taken home with the Rusk family, including 12-year-old Brady, who immediately bonded with the dog.

“It gets our mind off the sadness of losing Colton,” Kathy Rusk says in a video of the ceremony in which the family meets Eli, “just knowing we’re going to have a little piece of Colton in Eli. I just wished he could talk and tell us some stories. Just to know we’re going to be able to share the love we have for our son with something that he loved dearly.”

To compare, here is the trailer for Max, though we highly recommend you see the full film on the big screen. Sure, the film takes certain liberties and gives these touching stories the Hollywood treatment (think a lot of explosions and gunfire), but still, it’s a sweet movie that shows the incredible training, intelligence, and, most of all, devotion these military dogs have.

Tip: Make sure to stay through the credits to see fantastic photos of real-life MWDs.

Also, if you’re attracted to the breed of the dog in the movie, Belgian Malinois, read this before deciding to purchase one.
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