Friday, May 08, 2015

Mad Max

MAD MAX (George Miller, 1979)

The Halls of Justice are in shambles and anarchy reigns on the streets in the near-future depicted in MAD MAX. Roaming gangs terrorize citizens who risk straying far from home, especially those who dare to venture onto the roadways. Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is the Main Force Patrol’s top pursuit man on a skeleton crew of law enforcers. Despite his skill behind the wheel in taking down bad guys, Max considers walking away from his calling. He’s not fearful of the sociopaths, like the motorcycle menaces led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), but concerned that he may enjoy the chaos out there as much as the maniacs he’s chasing.

MAD MAX’s dystopian vision of the Australia of tomorrow puts a contemporary spin on the classic western. It’s easy to see director and co-writer George Miller’s film in that tradition by swapping the motorbikes and cars for horses and Max’s leather uniform for one including a cowboy hat and bolo tie. The townsfolk are too scared and officials too ineffectual to challenge the tormentors in their midst. It’s up to a reluctant Max as one of the last righteous men to try and bring some justice to a land where lawlessness has taken over.

Miller and co-screenwriter James McCausland use the familiar genre foundation as a means for delivering chases and stunts. MAD MAX lacks any semblance of explaining why society has broken down as it has. That information comes more in MAD MAX 2, although it’s equally as unnecessary for films that function best as car chase and stunt delivery systems. This is primal action predicated on survival of the fittest and fastest motorized transportation. The action scenes tingle with the thrill of feeling the weight, speed and danger as these vehicles careen across the asphalt hunting grounds. The damage inflicted on the cars is not done lightly. One scene of a hot rod being destroyed is shot and edited as if it’s a body getting dismembered. Revving engines provide a chorus of wailing souls.

MAD MAX plays like a dry run for a bigger and better film, which happens to be the case when comparing this to its first sequel. The economy of story and character and abrupt ending make it feel as though this is just the first two acts of a fuller narrative. The interval with Max, his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and their son on vacation drags down the pacing even as it sets up critical motivation for its conflicted protagonist. As villains go, Toecutter lacks the defining qualities to make him a worthy adversary for the hero. The B-movie genetic code keeps MAD MAX from achieving greatness, but the action Miller choreographs so well compensates for such shortcomings.

Grade: B-

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