Friday, March 8, 2013

#935. Mad Max (1979)

Directed By: George Miller

Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne

Tag line: "The Maximum Force of the Future"

Trivia: Because Mel Gibson wasn't well known at the time, he doesn't feature prominently in the U.S. Trailer, which instead focuses on the film's car crashes

Mad Max was the first in a trilogy of movies, all made by the same director (George Miller) and starring the same actor (Mel Gibson). The two films that followed it: 1981’s The Road Warrior and 1984’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, took place in a world where law and order no longer existed, a barren, desolate wasteland controlled by roving marauders who’d slit your throat for a gallon of gasoline. Mad Max shows the origins of this decay, taking us back to a time when society hadn’t yet collapsed, but was certainly headed in that direction. 

As the movie opens, Highway Patrolman Max Rockatansky (Gibson), an elite member of Australia’s Main Force Patrol Unit, is giving chase to the notorious Nightrider (Vincent Gil), a gang leader who’s just escaped custody. During the high-speed pursuit, Nightrider is killed, and the remainder of his gang, now led by a biker known as Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), decides to exact a little revenge on Max and his fellow officers. When his partner, Goose (Steve Bisley), is burned alive in his car, Max seriously considers retiring from the Main Force Patrol, but before he can make up his mind, Toecutter and his accomplices come after Max’s wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and the couple’s young son (Brendan Heath). Pushed over the edge, Max sets out to avenge the wrongs done to him, even if it means disregarding the law he is sworn to uphold. 

Mad Max is, first and foremost, an action film. The opening chase sequence, where Nightrider and his girlfriend (Lulu Pinkus) are on the run, is positively exhilarating, with director Miller bringing us as close to the speeding vehicles as he possibly can. There are a few tremendous accidents along the way, including the complete destruction of a mobile camper, and the scene culminates with one hell of a fiery crash. Even when Mad Max switches to revenge mode, Miller maintains the fast pace he established at the outset, infusing these later scenes with as much energy as those that preceded them. 

Along with the thrills, Mad Max also serves as an origin story of sorts for its title character, who in both The Road Warrior and Thunderdome would attain an almost iconic status. In the two subsequent movies, Max is a reluctant hero making his way across a post-apocalyptic landscape, a loner who keeps to himself, assisting others only when he thinks there’s something in it for him. He was much different in Mad Max; a loving father and husband, an officer of the law, and someone whose entire world was snatched away in an instant. To see the character’s evolution from honorable man to pariah was one of the most fascinating aspects of the trilogy, and while very few of the people he’d encounter after the events of this film would ever know the real Max, we feel we understand him well enough.

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