The 1970’s were a time of many social changes. Advancements in civil rights and technology were taking center stage. But, crime rates were rising, gas supply was shrinking while prices were gouging the public, and the new “politically correct” approach to law enforcement and justice (see the Dirty Harry franchise) was popular but not excepted by all. This next film echoes these issues in a dystopian future, where gas was a commodity and the legal system was for the criminal, not the people. This film is George Miller’s cult classic Mad Max.
Released in 1979, Mad Max was high octane action, social commentary and a not so bright future to come. American audiences should have ate it up but didn’t. No one really knew about it or saw it until the success of the sequel The Road Warrior (to be reviewed later). Mad Max launched the career of the then 23 year old Mel Gibson and first time director George Miller. With a limited budget and unknown actors, this is an action film gem that found an audience years later and is a standard by which action films are and should be modeled after.
The opening kicks off with a high speed chase that establishes the whiplash speed of the movie. The Nightrider (Vincent Gil) is a cop killer leading the police force (The Bronze) on a no-holds-barred pursuit that only “Mad” Max Rockatansky (Gibson) can end. This leads to the arrival of the Nightrider’s vicious motorcycle gang made up of social rejects with names like Condelini, Mudguts, Bobo Zinetti, Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns), and the vicious ring leader The Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). They begin to terrorize the small town with a barrage of assaults and injecting fear into the town folk. This fear allows Johnny the Boy to get off a brutal assault and rape charge that leads to the death of Max’ friend and partner Goose (Steve Bisley), and Max’ retirement. Police Chief Fifi, that’s right, Fifi, who is played by Roger Ward (and somehow makes wearing an ascot with head to toe leather seem badass), tries to convince Max that the world needs it’s heroes, now more than ever, and that Max is just the man for the job. Max retires anyway, but it doesn’t last. The unforgivable actions taken by The Toecutter and his crew of misfits against Max’ beautiful wife Jess (Joanne Samuel) and their young son Sprog, lead Max on a quest for revenge that will be sweet, but not fulfilling. By films end, Max is forever changed, victorious, but detached from humanity, a true loner. To be honest, Max is nothing more than the gunslinger, the desert replaced with the Australian outback, hollow and unforgiving.
Mad Max is a full blown action assault on the senses, full of amazing stunts and cinematography. It’s a genre film that brought attention to the world of “Ozploitation.” At it’s heart, it’s nothing more than a good ol’ fashioned 70’s revenge flick. The setting is a barren wasteland, to brutal for the meek to inherit it. The beasts who reign over it are madmen with muscle cars and motor bikes, whose engines don’t purr but growl with the intensity of wild animals. It’s a world where quiet family life is abnormal and surreal, and chaos is the norm. The judicial system lets scum walk free with a slap on the wrist. Well, not if Max has any say in it. What a sick and wonderful world to observe from the comfort of the couch. So sit back and watch, and be happy you don’t live in it.