Welcome all, to the second Raist (Re-)Visits, a series of posts where I rewatch some of my favorite classic movies and review them at the same time. Today we travel back quite a few years, to 1979 to be exact. I think we can all agree that the year we are currently living in at times feels like a bit of a post-apocalyptic world. A sickness that we can’t seem to get under control, people wearing face masks, mandatory quarantines. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it almost feels quite surreal. Like we are caught in a nightmarish world from which there is simply no escape. While the post apocalyptic setting is one of my favorite science fiction genres as it simply provides some very good stories, I had never really imagined that at some point I would actually be kind of living in it. Luckily things haven’t progressed so far that the end of civilisation or the world itself is near, but I do hope that things are going to change for the better and soon. But well, I have always been an optimistic guy, and I retain hope that it will. It didn’t go so well though for the people and the world depicted in the classic film that I will be talking about today, the Australian movie Mad Max. It’s to date one of the best post apocalyptic films ever made, and was the start of Mel Gibson’s career to Hollywood fame.
A few years from now, the world has crumbled and fallen into disarray. What’s left of humanity tries to survive as best they can, while gangs of motorcycle riders terrorise the weak and the innocent. In Australia the answer to those gangs is the Main Force Patrol (MFP), a kind of police force that tries to keep the roads safe from these outlaws. However they are vastly outnumbered and sometimes are easy prey for these thugs. When an officer of the MFP gets killed and his car stolen by a particularly deranged individual called the Nightrider, the rest of the force is in hot pursuit. At first he manages to evade them, but then he encounters the young Max Rockatansky, the MFP’s top pursuit man. After a dangerous chase, the Nightrider loses his life in a spectacular crash, and Max becomes the victor. The thing is Max is so good at capturing these dangerous biker gangs, that he fears he’s enjoying it too much, and eventually will be ending up as one of them: a terminal psychotic. Luckily he has a loving wife and infant son, that keep him grounded and who are pretty much his whole reason for living. The roads are becoming ever more dangerous though, and soon the Nightrider’s gang led by the loathsome Toecutter, roll into town. Their mission is revenge and total anarchy. Max will find himself in a battle for life and death….and his sanity.
If you have never seen this film I can only say stop reading this review and go and watch if first. Not because there are going to be any spoilers in this post, but simply because it’s time well spent. It’s hard to believe this film already dates back to 1979, but still holds up so incredibly well. This is a movie that was made in the classic film making era, without any digital effects to enhance the experience. Everything you see in this film, the stunts, the action, it’s all practical effects, and that only enriches it. You also won’t believe how young Mel Gibson looks in this movie. It’s one of his first roles, and one that already shows off how good an actor he was at that early stage. When a tragic event happens during the latter half of the film, and he turns into the character that would become known as Mad Max, it’s an incredible change we see coming over him. Gone is the loving and friendly husband we see him as in the beginning of the movie. What remains is a fuel injected suicide machine, hellbent on revenge against the horrible people that made his life into a living hell. Gibson would reprise his role two more times, and the sequel The Road Warrior is seen by many as the best film of the trilogy. While I won’t deny it’s definitely a terrific sequel, I still feel this film is the superior one.
Mainly that’s because of the fact that this movie has a much better storyline, and more character development, than The Roadwarrior, which is basically one long (albeit very cool) chase movie. It’s not only Gibson’s performance that’s worth mentioning though. The totally insane Toecutter, who becomes the main villain of this movie, is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne. His face sometimes reminds me of the late comedian Benny Hill, although there is very little that’s funny about this man. The leader of the gang of bikers, he rules them with an iron fist. Every single one of his underlings is afraid of him, and rightfully so. It’s a chilling performance, that at times gives you goosebumps in the way he portrays this totally mental individual. He becomes a dangerous opponent, and one that is more than a handful for Max Rockatansky. Interestingly enough Hugh returned for the movie Mad Max Fury Road, where he again plays the bad guy, although he’s totally unrecognisable in that movie. Sadly Gibson didn’t come back to portray one of his most iconic roles, but was replaced by definitely one of my favorite actors of this era, Tom Hardy. But that’s a story for another time. While there are also a couple of other characters in the movie, especially the fun loving Goose played by Steve Bisley, the film mainly revolves around Max and the Toecutter.
And that’s not a bad thing at all, as honestly these two actors pretty much carry the whole film on their shoulders. Both roles are intense and delivered with some stellar performances and memorable scenes. Another reason this film works so well, is the fact that it’s a chillingly realistic portrayal of a society that’s in decline. The world isn’t fully gone here yet, not as far along as in the sequels, and doesn’t even look that much different upon first glance from our own. But then you see the subtle details. The mostly empty police office of the MFP, the decaying roads, all signs that civilisation and culture are rapidly fading away. It’s also not very unrealistic to think that certain individuals would indeed act the way we see these bikers abuse the people that can’t stand up for themselves. Rounding out the film is the fantastic soundtrack made by Brian May. And yes that is THE Brian May. It’s a haunting score that blends perfectly well with some of the terrific action and chase sequences that this film shows. Mad Max is part of cinematic history and shows us a convincing and realistic post apocalyptic vision, for which we can only hope it will never come to pass. But hey, let’s not lose it and get mad now. One Mad Max is enough.
I give Mad Max a 10 out of 10 score.