Mad Max (1979) / Action-Adventure

MPAA Rated: R for violence, brief language, and some sexuality.
Running Time: 88 min. (video releases typically run 93 min.)

Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Steve Bisley, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Tim Burns, Roger Ward, Vince Gil
Director: George Miller
Screenplay: James McCausland, George Miller

Review published May 2, 2015

An introduction hardly seems necessary for the granddaddy of modern post-apocalyptic action films.  It's also the film that put its star, Mel Gibson (The Bounty, Lethal Weapon), on the map as a leading man.

Set in the near future, Gibson stars as the titular Max, a police officer fighting against the increasingly hostile lands, full of marauding car and biker gangs who have no regard for life, or for laws, and especially not for law officers.  A family man, Max doesn't know if he's really cut out to put his neck on the line in a losing battle against anarchy.  He soon discovers there is not much escape from the criminal element that have permeated everywhere, and it's kill or be killed in the lawless and bloodthirsty territories.

Directed by former emergency room doctor George Miller (The Witches of Eastwick, Happy Feet), his debut effort, Mad Max is a low-budget (around $350k), Corman-esque actioner from a fledgling Australian film industry that hadn't been getting the distribution and recognition it had deserved.  Miller directs this futuristic thriller with the eye toward spaghetti westerns, with its gritty anti-hero, sadistic outlaws, and wide shot compositions that one rarely sees outside of the genre.  The tracking shots from first-time cinematographer David Eggby (Dragonheart, Virus), whether on the road or on the land, are stunning to behold, not only giving the feeling of fluidity and fast action, but also showing that there is truly no place to run and nowhere to hide in the vastness of the outback.

Brilliant use of locales in the desolate, Australian outback.  But what really elevates Mad Max above being just a run-of-the-mill Western in cars is the jaw-dropping stunt work coordinated by Grant Page (Road Games), which rivals many big Hollywood efforts at the time.

The story is fairly simple, but it does arrest the attention during the conflicts because of the way Miller subverts formula thriller elements, prolonging the conflicts into the next scene, then the next, and even calling back to previous ones.  Nothing is tidy, which give the movie edge and unpredictability.  It's a bit rough around those edges, to the point where I wouldn't deem it a great movie overall, especially since, unlike Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, the score is quite incongruous with the nature of the movie, and drowns out the dialogue on occasion.  If it were possible to re-release the film with a newly composed score, I'd pay top dollar to see how much of an effect it has on the overall vibe.

Avoid the cartoonishly dubbed American version.  The Aussie accents are not even close to being difficult to understand, contrary to what the North American distributors may have thought at the time

-- Followed by The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, plus a reboot in 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo