Futuristic Movie Month: "Mad Max" Review

Photo Credit: American International Pictures

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Rating: R
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: April 12, 1979
Directed by: George Miller
Genre: Action / Adventure / Thriller

The story of "Mad Max" is set in Australia, sometime in the near feature. Australia's civilization is in ruins. The Main Force Patrol, sometimes called "The Bronze" by criminals, is a group of police officers that tries to protect Australia's few civilians, despite being severely under-funded. Brutal motorcycle gangs that perform frequent raids are a major threat to the remaining civilians. Mel Gibson holds the title role as Max Rockatansky, a promising young police officer. Max's abilities as a pursuit driver are legendary throughout the outback, and the rest of the Main Force Patrol considers Max to be their best officer when it comes to chasing down criminals.

Little does Max know that his tumultuous life is about to become even more dangerous. Crawford Montazano, also known as Nightrider, is an especially notorious member of a nearby motorcycle gang. Nightrider has been taken into custody, but he quickly escapes from the Main Force Patrol, killing an officer in the process and tearing off into the desolate Australian wilderness with Max in hot pursuit. The high-speed chase results in many officers being injured and nearly killed, but Max persists in the pursuit until Nightrider loses control of his vehicle and perishes in a fiery explosion. The chief of the Main Force Patrol warns Max that Nightrider's gang is a particularly violent one and will soon be after him to avenge Nightrider's death.

Though Max expects to be in danger himself, Nightrider's gang, led by a terrible man called Toecutter, begins exacting revenge by murdering other Main Force Patrol officers and destroying what remains of Australian civilization. As the war between the gang and the Main Force Patrol escalates, it becomes clear that Max isn't just fighting for his own life anymore. His family and the entire police force are in very real danger, and he seems to be the only officer skilled enough to put an end to the gang's reign of terror once and for all.

"Mad Max" was never expected to become a worldwide success. It was a small, low-budget Australian movie that was never popular beyond a small number of devoted fans, but it took off when American audiences fell in love with "Mad Max 2," also known as "The Road Warrior." "Mad Max" unexpectedly started an entire franchise and is considered to be solely responsible for the birth of the post-apocalyptic road film genre. The series is often referenced in pop culture, from television shows to professional wrestlers, some of whom have even imitated the terrifying persona of Toecutter.

"Mad Max" was Mel Gibson's first major movie and started his wildly successful career. Many critics still praise Mel Gibson's portrayal of Max Rockatansky as his greatest role to date, even above his roles in "Braveheart," "The Patriot" and "Lethal Weapon." Max is a strong character who is instantly likable for his bravery and loyalty to the people he loves. Unlike many action heroes, Max doesn't start out cold and harsh, in spite of everything he's been through. Instead, as the movie progresses, and the people he loves begin to suffer for his heroic actions that led to Nightrider's death, his demeanor darkens. By the end of the film, Max is a different person, and the subsequent movies in the franchise show that he will never be the same.

Other members of the cast also deliver memorable performances. Joanne Samuel plays Max's wife, Jessie. Samuel previously starred alongside Mel Gibson in a television show called "The Sullivans." Her character in "Mad Max" is a tragic one. As the mother of a young boy, she constantly fears that Max will not come home alive when he's serving alongside the other members of the Main Force Patrol. Hugh Keays-Byrne portrays Toecutter flawlessly and brings the villain to life with a surprising amount of depth. Toecutter is an evil man, but he still tries to find ways to justify his vicious actions to his followers, who are not all as ruthless as he is. It almost appears that Toecutter is trying to convince himself even more than others that he isn't quite as bad as he seems.

Even though it was released in 1979, "Mad Max" is still relevant to today's audiences. The collapse of civilization is a concept that makes many people nervous, and the minds behind "Mad Max" took full advantage of that fear. In spite of its near-future setting, the dystopian world of "Mad Max" is realistic all the way down to the subtle details. With its compelling characters and toe-curling action sequences, it's no wonder that "Mad Max" has been considered a classic for so many years.