Mad Max (1979)

Director: George Miller
Starring: Mel Gibson, Hugh Keays-Bryn, Joanne Samuel, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward, Geoff Parry. Australia. 1h 35m

Let me just start this off with a short introduction to explain that I absolutely live for this film and can’t even come close to express my obsession with it with mere words, I’m going to try and remain as calm as possible while writing this short review as I feel I need to put something on my blog but there will be a Post Discussion where I’ll get into much more details and pour my heart out even more..

This bleak dystopian thriller stars Mel Gibson as “Mad” Max Rockastansky, a seasoned police officer who prefers to work alone but begins to fear that he’s becoming as crazy as the people he hunts down in high speed chases across the Australian desert roads.

So while the world is teetering on the edge of total collapse, there’s a group of dedicated and passionate motor patrol officers who risk their lives to keep the public safe from motor gangs. The head of the most notorious gang is out of control in the opening of the movie with his insane girlfriend, they have stolen a police interceptor and are speeding towards a town, it’s imperative that they catch them before they hit the population, all attempts totally fail as they nearly run over a small boy, The Nightrider starts to have a mental breakdown, and Max is called to step in and plays chicken with the unstable character who crashes and burns.

It’s a pretty hectic intro to the movie but things start to settle down, Max is commended for his work, he gets back to work with his best chum Jim Goose (Bisley) who’s preferred set of wheels is a Kawasaki KZ1000 and the two make an awesome team.

But things don’t stay so smooth for too long, Max is warned the Toecutter (Keays-Bryn) is out to get him with the remnants of Knight Riders ultraviolent gang. Max doesn’t take the warning too serious, and assumes the gang is like all the others he’s destroyed over the years, but he has become aware that he’s getting to be as crazy as the gangs he takes down every day and wants to leave the force and live out his days doing something less dangerous, spending time with his beautiful wife and their young son “Sprog”. His manager Fifi Macaffe (Ward) gives him a vacation but Max is intending to leave for good, it’s about this time that the Toecutter in all of his eccentrics starts to track and haunt Max and his family.


In modern times with the trashy and boring “remake” of Mad Max is seems all that has been remembered about the series is desert and a desolate future and fast cars, while it’s true for all of the trilogy this particular aesthetic is only really prevalent in the latter two films, in this original ground-breaking, backbreaking and at times mind breaking project, things weren’t THAT bad yet. Agreeable things were pretty bleak, the derelict police station is a sign of the times, society was about to lose any hold on law and order, but for now money still excited and there was a trade of petrol just yet. Instead Mad Max is a classic revenge story, everyone is out for it in this adventure, Toecutter is out to get revenge for his beloved Knightrider whose name he uses as a mantra, Max is out for revenge for a lot of people by the end of the film, Goose is getting revenge and the film takes it slow descent into violence and madness

With this film being such a labour of love, with virtually no budget, a group of friends who liked to ride and drive fast and some low key actors, people HAD to want to be involved in this movie, and so there’s a strong cast of great characters, and the honesty of their strong personas comes through on screen, and with most of them actually being bikers, it feels authentic. For me the actor who stole the show is Hugh as Toecutter, not only his physically larger than life, but he’s just insane and makes for good theatrics, but then there are the subtle details, the eyeshadow, the Kali figure on his helmet, this man is dedicated to death and mayhem, but he’s not totally mindless, he’s happy to toy with his prey before he destroys him, he was spotted by Miller in his crazy biker role in Stone (1974) and somehow amped the character up and darkened the persona, at times I think he just did a Rik Mayal and ad libbed some craziness into the film, but he’s such a classically trained actor bursting with personality it a cinch. He’s not really alone as his gang has some nihilistic and oddball group, there’s the stoic Bubba Zanetti (Parry) and Johnny The Boy (Burns) remain strong memorable characters, and no one will forget Cundalini (Paul Johnstone) and his lost and found hand.

While being a gritty inventive gateway to the apocalypse it doesn’t ooze they stereotypical atmosphere of that genre, not only has the world not dropped into desperation quite yet, but For a lot of the film there’s the hint that there are some good people out there and maybe there’s some hope, but the quiet scenes of this action masterpiece lead us to a false sense that families will live on. This makes it daunting and fairly unique in this genre.

This was George Miller’s debut and I feel that he really grasped the project by the horns and  really made the most of what he had, his talent really shines in building drama and tension, something he really let amped up for his segment of the Twilight Zone (1983), the brazen capabilities of the (not) stuntmen who risked everything for the authentic look and the give it all attitude of the director marries to make some great action scenes, gut churning speed chases and crashes and they pretty much rip up the outback and leave it stained with blood.

For me it works as an violent action film with a lot of heart, I admire that it doesn’t fit the genre like a glove, and for a lot of the film it’s a battle of good and evil which is always a classic movie set up. Just watching the characters “be themselves” is magic, or as much as a suicide ballet can be. I find no faults with the movie itself but it’s disappointing that the follow on films just fell into the post apocalyptic wasteland that everyone was playing in for so long, it would have been amazing if it could have kept to the fringe of the genre again and again it could have been truly unique. But time and time again I feel safe knowing I can go back to this cult classic, which is superior to the successors but I hope is something that will influence directors and actors for many more decades to come.

Rating  10/10

R: Mad Max 2 (1981), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Mad Max – Fury Road (2015), Stone (1974)
L: Australian Cinema A-Z Vol. 1, Post Apocalyptic A-Z, Vol 1, 10 of my favourite Apocalyptic Films Vo1 1.
A: The cinematic obsession with the end of the world and beyond.
5s: Mel Gibson, Hugh Keyes Bryne,
Vs: Mad Max Vs Mad Max

Post Discussion TO COME!


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