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If you cried watching Marley & Me, you may want to pack the tissues when going to see Max.

While the pooch doesn’t die in the new family-friendly feature, the story of a PTSD-stricken military dog who moves in with his deceased handler’s family is sure to pull on the heartstrings of any animal-lover.

The eponymous Belgian Shepherd and his handler, U.S. Marine Kyle Wincott, played by Toronto-born actor Robbie Amell, forge a special relationship while serving on Afghanistan’s frontlines. Max struggles to go on after Wincott is mortally wounded.

Working with highly-trained animals was an eye-opener for Amell, who has two dogs of his own.

“These dogs are really unbelievable,” said Amell, who described how his canine counterparts could hit marks buried under sand and perform complex choreography.

“The main [dog] I worked with, his name was Carlos, was a beautiful Belgian Shepherd and so unbelievably smart. I ruined more takes than Carlos did.”

Amell’s pets include a 5 lbs Maltese and a 4 lbs Shih Tzu/Poodle. “They couldn’t be farther from a Belgian Shepherd,” joked the dog-lover.

“I look super manly walking 9 lbs of dog.”

Help for four-legged veterans
The heart of Max, as directed by Boaz Yakin, is the special bond that can form between human and animal. And it tackles the idea that four-legged veterans also bear the scars of war.

Amell, who researched service dogs for the role, said it touched him to learn that military dogs can suffer PTSD and become traumatized when they lose someone.

“Of course it’s horrible when it happens to people … but you can talk through it and you can seek help,” he said, “but a dog can’t seek help for what’s going on.”

The 27-year-old actor is trading dogs for cats for his next film, Nine Lives. Amell is currently shooting the comedy in Montreal with Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Garner and Christopher Walken.

“It’s being directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, who did the Men in Black trilogy,” Amell explains. “It’s this very wild, out-there family comedy where Christopher Walken turns Kevin Spacey into a cat.”

Max goes into wide release this Friday.

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