I have re-watched it recently and, even though I was pretty sure I saw the damned thing when I was young, I think I actually never saw it at the time. I think it has to do with the fact that ‘Mad Max 2’ was called ‘The Road Warrior’, therefore ignoring the first installment so I probably thought the sequel was the first movie. Anyway, this movie is definitely a milestone and for many reasons. Indeed, not only was it the directing debut for George Miller, one of the most successful directors coming from Australia, but it was also of course Mel Gibson’s debut as well. To be honest, in my opinion, the whole thing didn’t grow old very well but, with such a small budget, they still managed to make something quite striking and pretty bad-ass, that’s for sure. Since then, it has become a cult classic and it definitely deserves its reputation. More than 35 years later, George Miller would finally come up with a new sequel and, even though the production was pretty chaotic and suffered many delays, it turned out to be a massive popular success (many would argue that it was the best movie released in 2015). Anyway, to conclude, even though I’m not a huge fan, it is still a really solid flick and it is definitely worth a look, especially if you like the genre.
Mad Max (1979) Reviews
Assembled and released at the height of the "Ozploitation" craze of the '70s and '80s, Mad Max was a genuine diamond in the rough, a low-budget dark horse of a movie which developed into a box office smash. Here is a vehemently manly, violent post-apocalyptic action movie notable for the sheer creativity of its construction. The brainchild of George Miller and Byron Kennedy, Mad Max's future world is not full of lavish technology like Blade Runner, instead presenting a bleak, horrifyingly plausible vision of a post-apocalyptic world where the law and order is fading amid pure chaos. It's a movie of eccentric characters, imaginative camerawork, insane action scenes and unique production design, yet it also feels like there's nary a wasted moment - every scene and moment builds to a cohesive whole.
The titular Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is a highway patrolman in the future. Although law enforcement still exists in some capacity, civilisation has essentially deteriorated, giving rise to vicious gangs who run rampant, killing and murdering on a whim. After a high-speed car chase ends with the death of a gang member known as Nightrider (Vincent Neil), his comrades take it upon themselves to track down Max and his buddies in the Main Force Patrol (MFP). Led by a thug who calls himself the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the gang eventually set their sights on Max's family, wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and infant son Sprog (Brendan Heath), which ignites a vendetta of vengeance for the MFP officer.
For what is essentially an exploitative action flick, Mad Max is not all about car chases, instead spending a fair amount of time with Max and his family to give the antihero a sympathetic edge before he goes, well, mad. Miller, who co-wrote and directed the picture, develops a tender relationship between Max and Jessie, which gives a spark of genuine intensity to the final third when Max looks to exact revenge on the Toecutter's gang. Miller also imbues the feature with a streak of laconic, dark humour to offset how disturbing this future truly is. Additionally, the often unusual character names (Sprog, Goose, etc.) and the quirky costumes add further texture to this highly peculiar world.
An Australian native, Miller is and always has been a complete lunatic of a moviemaker in the best possible way, consistently pushing the boundaries of what's possible on a budget through dangerous camera gymnastics and insane, high-risk stunts. Without much financing, Miller and director of photography David Eggsby get major plaudits for the sheer ingenuity of the picture - Miller himself even rode on the back of a motorcycle for one shot, and cameras were attached to cars in the most budget-friendly fashion possible. The result is pure dynamite, a feature with an understandably limited scope that still has the power to generate a rare kind of thrill all these years on. In an age of glossy, high-budget blockbusters, Mad Max is exhilarating because everything had to be achieved practically - the thrilling car mayhem was executed by real stuntman putting their lives on the line, not CGI.
As the film was created without major studio backing, post-production for Mad Max took place in a small lounge room, with Miller and his collaborators employing a DIY editing machine. It's a genuinely impressive feat, rendered all the better by the truly superb editing - the dramatic scenes may not be the greatest, but the action sequences are fast and furious. Mad Max was a controversial movie upon release, banned in some territories and heavily cut in others. Yet, in comparison to more recent productions, there is not a great deal of graphic violence here. This is a testament to Miller's skill as a cinematic craftsman; he generates a sense of disturbing brutality through creative editing, aided by the overly melodramatic but nevertheless effective score by Brian May.
Mad Max is notable for introducing the world to a then-unknown actor named Mel Gibson. He looks extremely young here, with a smooth face and bright eyes - he was a mere 21 years of age during principal photography. While Gibson's performance is not as robust here as his work on future projects like Lethal Weapon or Braveheart, he's still a charismatic, masculine presence, and there are emotional underpinnings to his work that makes the story somewhat affecting. Max is the very definition of an antihero, as he needs to jettison every vestige of his humanity and become just as cold and depraved as the Toecutter's gang to bring down the monsters. And speaking of the Toecutter, he's a very colourful villain, played perfectly by Keays-Byrne (who will also be playing the baddie role in 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road). The whole ensemble of bad guys steal the show, from Gill's manic Nightrider to Tim Burns' dim-witted Johnny the Boy. The performance are menacing and animalistic yet also amusing, a rare achievement indeed. Mad Max was notoriously dubbed for the American market, as the distributors were concerned about the Australian accents. Of course, the result of such preposterous efforts remains more of a historical curiosity; the best way to experience this Aussie gem is with its original soundtrack.
Years on, Mad Max endures as an Ozploitation classic elevated by insane car chases and stunts, yet the build-up never quite pays off properly. The climax is badass, to be sure, but you can be forgiven for wanting more. Ultimately, the movie feels like a set up for the superior sequel, Mad Max 2 a.k.a. The Road Warrior, though this doesn't diminish this first instalment's merits.
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Mad Max is easily one of the finest examples of the genre, and of Australia Cinema as well. To the casual eye this film is straight-up vehicular porn. There are spectacular cars, even spectacular crashes, and orgasm-inducing engine sounds and unrelenting machismo. Only two types of people may be attracted to a film like this: the morally depressed, or the hormonally charged. As for me, I'm rather unsure, to tell you the truth.
The world of Mad Max is all but dead. Fearsome personas roam what is left of anything and terrorize what is left of anyone. Fuel has become a precious scarcity, and vehicles - any kind - have become the most prized commodity. No-one should be without one. I enjoyed how they made it less Western and more 16th Century expedition-style. I also enjoyed how the characters were unconventional, with none being too self-aware, and all being formidable in their own ways. It's clear to see they're inhabiting a world they realize is too corrupted and broken down without their help.
Unlike most others, bar Blade Runner, this film is also very masculine. It really is a man's world out there, and women and children are second-hand assets. I also enjoyed the fact that almost nothing was exaggerated and the spotlight - thankfully - did not dwell much on the emotional factor; because this film doesn't have any.
From the performances, Mel Gibson was awesome, though a little bit loose around the edges, and that's perfectly understandable. It's from the second film onward he becomes the iconic character as we know him today. Nevertheless, I enjoyed his performance and I likened it to a light-headed version of Rick Deckard. From the supporting, Hugh Keays-Byrne was quite unsettling as Toecutter, the antagonist. The villains of the series have always been brutal and creative, and Toecutter is the best example, though he always get over-shadowed by everyone's favorite, Humungus, from the second film. The rest of the cast were exceptionally brilliant, too.
In conclusion, Mad Max is a must watch. It's a film with little to no soul in it, even less sympathy, but a-lot of powerful moments and awesome vehicular scenes.
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Nightrider's motorcycle gang, led by Toecutter and Bubba Zanetti, is running roughshod over a town, vandalizing property, stealing fuel and terrorizing the populace. Max and officer Jim "Goose" Rains arrest Toecutter's young protege, Johnny "the Boy" Boyle, when Johnny, too high to ride, stays behind after the gang rapes a young couple. When no witnesses appear for his trial, the courts throw the case out and Johnny is released. An angry Goose attacks Johnny and must be held back; both men shout threats of revenge. After his lawyer drags Johnny away, MFP Captain Fred "Fifi" McPhee tells his officers to do whatever it takes to apprehend the gangs, "so long as the paperwork's clean."
A short time later, Johnny sabotages Goose's motorcycle; it locks up at high speed, throwing Goose from the bike. Goose is unharmed, though his bike is badly damaged; he borrows a ute to haul his bike back. However, Johnny and Toecutter's gang are waiting in ambush. Johnny throws a brake drum at Goose's windshield, which shatters and causes Goose to crash the ute; Toecutter then instructs Johnny to throw a match into the gasoline leaking from Goose's wrecked ute, while Goose is trapped inside. Johnny refuses; Toecutter first cajoles, then verbally and physically abuses him. Johnny eventually throws the lit match into the wreckage, which erupts in flames.
Goose is severely burned. After seeing his charred body in the hospital, Max becomes disillusioned with the Police Force. Worried of what may happen if he continues working for the MFP - and that he is beginning to enjoy the insanity - Max announces to Fifi that he is resigning from the MFP. Fifi convinces him to take a holiday first before making his final decision.
While at the coast, Max's wife, Jessie and their infant son run into Toecutter's gang, who attempt to rape her. She flees, but the gang later finds them again at the remote farm where she and Max are staying. The gang runs over Jessie and their son as they try to escape, leaving their crushed bodies in the middle of the road. Max arrives too late to save them.
Filled with rage, Max dons his police leathers and takes a supercharged black Pursuit Special (Ford Falcon XB GT 351) to pursue the gang. After torturing a mechanic for information, Max methodically hunts down the gang members: he forces several of them off a bridge at high speed, shoots Bubba at point blank range with his shotgun, and forces Toecutter into the path of a semi-trailer truck. During the struggle, Bubba runs over Max's arm and shoots him in the knee, which Max braces with a makeshift splint. Max finally finds Johnny, who is looting a car crash victim he presumably murdered for a pair of boots. In a cold, suppressed rage, Max handcuffs Johnny's ankle to the wrecked vehicle whilst Johnny begs for his life, confessing that he is a sick man who suffers from a psychopathic disorder who shouldn't be blamed for his past behavior since he's admittedly crazy. Max ignores his begging and sets a crude time-delay fuse with a slow fuel leak and a lighter. Throwing Johnny a hacksaw, Max leaves him the choice of sawing through either the handcuffs (which will take ten minutes) or his ankle (which will take five minutes). Johnny screams in horror at Max for the unspeakably horrific fate he has been left with, accusing Max of being worse than him. Max wordlessly drives away; as he clears the bridge, the vehicle explodes. Max continues driving into the darkness, the movie ending with his ultimate fate unknown.
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