Mad Max (1979)

mad max 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Gang harasses cop’s family.

In the not so distant future where lawlessness is the norm motorbike gangs terrorize the Australian countryside and it’s up to highwayman known as the Main Force Patrol (MFP) to keep them under control. When one of the officers known as Max (Mel Gibson) kills a gang member during a high-speed chase the gang’s leader named Toecutter (Hugh Keyes-Byrne) gets his revenge by having his gang member’s destroy a small town and rape a couple. He also has the youngest member of his gang named Johnny (Tim Burns) kill Max’s partner Goose (Steve Bisley) by having his car set on fire with him still inside. After Max witnesses Goose’s charred remains he quits the force, but Toecutter and his men continue their harassment by this time setting their sights on Max’s wife (Joanne Samuel) and young child.

This film, which was produced by a generally novice crew including its director who at one time worked as a doctor inside a hospital emergency room, became a worldwide cult hit that has spawned many sequels and imitations. The intent was to create a “silent movie with sound” with the emphasis more on imagery and action than dialogue or story. For the most part it succeeds quite well in this area with some excellent car chases particularly the one at the beginning and coupled with the dry barren Australian countryside, which truly does give off a strong, desolate future-type look.

The film though lacks any backstory and one spends the greater part of the first hour asking ‘Who are these people and how exactly did they get there?’ The film can still be enjoyed without it, but comes off as poorly realized and lacking any type of depth. The narrative is also just a little too simple and obvious. When the wife decides to go off to get some ice cream when Max is at the car repair place it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that she’ll bump into the marauding gang when she gets there, which of course she does. Later, she goes for a walk in a forest, but Max doesn’t go with her, or give a gun for protection even though the gang is still on the loose, which seemed like really poor judgement.

There are also times when the film pulls away from the violence a little too soon and would have been more effective had it stayed on it for a while longer. One of these moments occurs during the rape sequence and another time is when Max visits Goose in the hospital, but instead of having the camera capture Goose’s burned face, which would’ve been much more graphic and disturbing, it instead looks at Max’s widening eyes, which is cheesy and cartoonish.

The film’s biggest issue though is the music score by Brian May, which is so loud and obnoxious and borders on being a distraction. The booming orchestral sound doesn’t jive at all with the futuristic setting and seems much better suited for a 1940’s serial instead. The images would be enough to set the tone and having the blasting music added in makes it come off as heavy-handed and amateurish.

Byrne as the gang leader is distinct looking and effectively menacing although his evilness could’ve been played up even more. Sheila Florance though is a lot of fun as the elderly, gun-toting Aunt May who single-handedly tries to take down the gang with only her and her rifle. However, it’s Gibson that steals it with his young, baby-face that makes him look like a choirboy and heightens the intrigue by having such a contrasting look to the gang members and making the viewer wonder if he really can take them down or not.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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