In 1979, Mad Max took the world by surprise showing what Australia and its cinema was capable of doing. Written and directed by George Miller, it was produced with a tiny budget of 300,000 Australian dollars and earned $100 million worldwide. It also launched Mel Gibson’s film career (although he had debuted in the unknown Summer City two years earlier). I grew up with this film, I’ve seen it countless times, I know practically the whole script by heart, and it was about time I wrote about it here!
Mad Max is a revenge movie, so the plot is nothing exceptionally complicated. Max Rockatsnsky (Mel Gibson) is a tough cop, like his great friend Jim Goose (Steve Bisley). One day, a chase ends badly, with the death of a mad biker named Nightrider and his partner (Vincent Gil and Lulu Pinkus). The rest of the bikers’ gang begin an escalation of violence in his name with serious consequences for Goose and Max’s family (his wife Jessie, Joanne Samuel, and their little son). This causes Max to lose his head and start his private revenge.
The plot is not original at all, but everything else is. For instance, the setting makes this film unique. The society imagined by Miller is on the verge of collapse, or rather it’s already beyond the point of no return. Yes, both the police and the the justice system are there, but the cops are as insane as the gang members they’re supposed to chase, and the law can’t keep even the worst scum locked in jail.
Then, it’s amazing how each and every member of the bikers’ gang is characterized so that everyone has his unique personality. Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who recently passed away) is the charismatic leader, Bubba Zanetti (Geoff Parry) is his right hand man, Johnny The Boy (Tim Burns) is the youngster who wants to climb the distorted social ladder of the gang… The film devotes to their dynamics the same amount of time it devotes to Max, his work and his family. These two worlds soon clash with devastating results.
But most of all the action in this film is unbelievable. Each scene is shot with great skill, all the stunts are incredible, the motorbikes and cars launched at insane speed through the Australian roads cutting through the desert are adrenaline shots for the viewer… But the movie isn’t just that. Miller knew how to build the tension: think for example of the scene in which Jessie crosses the pine forest to go to the beach and then when she gets back home! The final confrontation between Max and Johnny is also incredibly tense even though there’s practically no action at all in it. It’s fantastic how the film portrays the beautiful and sweet love story between Max and Jessie before breaking it into a thousand pieces to make it clear why Max goes completely crazy and decides to take revenge alone against the entire gang.
Despite what you may think, though, Mad Max is anything but reactionary, even though the protagonist ignores the law for his own private revenge. His choice costs him dearly, he loses his sanity! Unlike violent and fascist characters but presented as heroes like Clint Eastwood‘s Inspector Callahan, to name one, Max doesn’t become a model, but just another victim of senseless violence.
What else to say? This movie practically created an entire genre by itself, now there are endless post-atomic / post-apocalyptic films, television series, video games… And the Mad Max saga itself, with its four films, is quality cinema (the third chapter is the least convincing, in my humble opinion)! I highly recommend watching Mad Max to anyone, it’s a true classic! Ciao!
PS: Please watch the film in the original dub and avoid the ridiculous US version made because it was thought that the original Australian accent was too exotic.