The Excellent Dialogue of ‘Max Payne 3’

[8 June 2012]

By Nick Dinicola

There’s a lot of good writing in Max Payne 3, from its handling of character arcs to Max’s self deprecating narration. I love the moments when Max stops narrating with a noir flourish and just calls someone an asshole. It’s a way of representing his exhaustion though the narration: he’s too tired to think of a metaphor. But what really stands out to me are the seemingly throwaway lines from minor characters that give those characters depth despite their little screen time.

Rodrigo Branco

After Fabiana is kidnapped, the Branco family, Max, and Passos are in a boardroom discussing what they should do. Rodrigo is confused as to who would kidnap his wife, and he says, “I have tried to do business the right way but that is not always possible. Of course I’ve made enemies, but I’ve also paid a lot of bribes.”

That second sentence is key. It effectively sums up Rodrigo’s character by playing with our expectations of clichés. Upon hearing the first half of the sentence it’s easy to assume that it’ll end with something like “…but I’ve made a lot of friends.” The dichotomy between “enemy” and “friend” is so natural, and the idea of a powerful business man having lots of enemies and lots of friends (or at least “acquaintances that owe a favor”) is so clichéd that our minds immediately make the connection before Rodrigo can finish.

But that’s not how the sentence ends. The fact that Rodrigo thinks of the people that he’s bribed when the more natural connection is friends or even business partners tells us that this is a man who can’t make friends. His closest thing to a friend is someone that he bribed.

What’s best about this line is its conciseness. There’s no long expository speech about what kind of man Rodrigo is; just a quick line that shows us he has no friends. That brevity makes it feel like a natural part of the conversation; it’s just something he says without thinking too much about it. However, while the writing doesn’t go out of its way to characterize Rodrigo, it’s also not obtusely subtle. The line stands out because it breaks our expectations; the writing isn’t trying to be too clever for its own good. This sentence has the specific purpose of building Rodrigo’s character, so if it had been so subtle as to go unnoticed it would fail its purpose. Thankfully, it doesn’t.

Victor Branco

Later, after Max and Passos fail to rescue Fabiana for a second time, Rodrigo is getting even more desperate and frustrated. Victor tries to reassure him, “Yes, these are tough times, but we have been through it before, like when father died.” It’s a nice sentiment, but Rodrigo disagrees, “Father had a heart attack while visiting a brothel. Yeah, it was humiliating and embarrassing for sure… but now this is different.”

Rodrigo is right, the two situations aren’t really similar at all: One is a public relations debacle, the other is a security debacle with actual lives at stake. Victor’s lines come across as meaningless support; one brother’s attempt to reassure the other by any means. However, the fact that Victor equates the two shows that in his mind this kidnapping problem is really just another PR problem. He’s thinking of the situation from a business point of view, whereas Rodrigo, worried for the life of his wife, is looking at it from a human point of view. 

This contrast makes even more sense once you beat the game and learn of Victor’s plans to use the death of his family as fuel for his election campaign. Suddenly, his previous comparison makes more sense. This is a PR issue for him, and not for the Branco family as he implied earlier—but a PR issue for him specifically.

Max Payne 3 is filled with this kind of dialogue: short and effective. The kind of dialogue you can only get from comprehensive editing. Clearly, the same attention to detail given to the world was given to the script. I imagine there must be tons of written lines left on the cutting room floor, and the game is so much better is for it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/159554-max-payne-3/