Friday, March 8, 2013

#935. Mad Max (1979) - Spotlight on Australia

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, 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, - were set in a world where law and order no longer existed, a barren, desolate wasteland controlled by roving marauders who would 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 fully collapsed, but was 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 has just escaped custody. During the high-speed pursuit, Nightrider is killed, and the remainder of his gang, now led by 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 cronies come after Max’s wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and the couple’s young son (Brendan Heath).

Pushed to his breaking point, Max sets out to avenge the wrongs done to him, even if it means breaking the law he has 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 absolutely exhilarating, with director Miller bringing his camera as close to the speeding vehicles as possible. 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 just as much energy.

Along with the thrills, Mad Max also serves as an origin story for its title character, who in both The Road Warrior and Thunderdome would attain a mythic 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, helping 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 understand him well enough.

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