Mad Max (1979)
“He rules the roads.”
Mad Max (1979)
Director: George Miller
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Synopsis: In a self-destructing world, a vengeful Australian policeman sets out to stop a violent motorcycle gang.
Back in the 1980s, Mad Max was the ultimate Mates Movie – i.e. the kind best enjoyed with your mates over a few cans of beer and any other narcotic of choice. It was loud and fast; it had comic-book violence and the thinnest of plots, which meant that, even if you wanted to do more than just appreciate the plentiful explosions, you still need only give it about 20% of your attention. Who could have known back then that, in many ways, Mad Max would prove to be a forerunner of all those glossy but empty blockbusters Hollywood force-feeds us every summer?
It takes place ‘a few years from now’ in a society in the slow, painful throes of deconstruction. Director and co-writer (with James McCausland) George Miller devotes virtually no time to filling in the details of this society in terminal decline, which is a shame because the movie badly lacks any kind of context. Apart from the occasional truck driver and pedestrian, the country seems to be populated entirely by police and joy-riders traversing empty desert highways in search of trouble. The Max of the title is Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson – Braveheart), a police officer who leads as normal a domestic life with his pretty wife (Joanne Samuels) and young child as circumstances will permit. Naturally, B-Movie lore insists that such a state of affairs can’t be allowed to persist, and it’s not long before the highway duels Max and his free-wheeling colleague Goose (Steve Bisley) wage with a vicious gang of bikers led by ToeCutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) begin to have a major impact on Max’s personal life…
Mad Max was Miller’s first film as a director, which, together with the low budget, explains the movie’s many rough edges. And yet, even though the editing decisions are often questionable, and the score lamentable, the movie cheerfully disregards its flaws to concentrate on maintaining a style that repeatedly harks back to its drive-in B-Movie roots. The action scenes, while a little tame by today’s standards, still possess the raw, visceral excitement that caught audiences’ attention back in 1979, and they easily provide the movie’s brightest moments. In fact, when Mad Max isn’t on the open road, the movie repeatedly stumbles, particularly when trying to arouse the audience’s emotions. Gibson looks about 12 years old, and is memorable only for his looks, rather than for anything of substance he brings to what is admittedly a thinly-drawn character. Samuels fares better as his devoted wife, but it’s the more colourful biker characters that linger in the memory, even though they never really come across as particularly threatening. But then, that’s typical of the whole movie, really: it works, even though it obviously shouldn’t…
(Reviewed 12th August 2015)