Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max ★★★★

Image result for Mad Max 1980 stills

    If there is anything to be said about the 1979 film entitled "Mad Max," a picture that spawned one of the most underrated action franchises in the history of the cinema, it has to be in regard to the relentless suspense that enshrouds this rather nihilistic and peculiar atmosphere. Director George Miller not only instills a sense of uncertainty into a plot that is routinely simplistic (considering its focus on a sole persona and his progressive descent into darkness), but he does so in such a way that captures the essence of Ozploitation cinema--a term that characterizes a certain style of film-making that blossomed in 1970s Australia. 

    Let's face it: "Mad Max" is a film that expresses the qualities of the above-mentioned style (which can become quite intolerable at times) in glamorous fashion. The picture is littered with scenes of a "campy" mentality and inexplicable situations in which a young female is led into a dangerous circumstance by way of her mindless decision-making skills. (Both of which have become a staple in shoe-string budgeted horror films.) 

    Nevertheless, Miller somehow finds a balance between cheesy and sophisticated, as his employment of several techniques essentially helps to mold this picture into a heart-pounding extravaganza on wheels. Fast motion, long tracking shots, and the indirect subjective camera viewpoint (a subtle positioning of the camera that eliminates the emotional distance between audience and character, yet not entirely placing the events in the eyes of the participant) all enhance this frenetic mood. The post-apocalyptic world never seemed more enjoyable.   

     The plot: Our story takes place sometime in the near future, in the Outback of Australia; the Earth has become little more than a planet filled with dirt and chaos. Order is set into place by a group called the Main Force Patrol, who proceed to lay down the law by scouring the roads in suped-up vehicles they like to refer to as "pursuit specials." Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is obviously the most skilled driver, which ultimately pits him against a renegade psychopath in the opening minutes of the film after several other Patrollers fail to bring him into custody. 

Image result for Mad Max 1979 film stills

    After an intense chase scene (which makes those of "Bullitt" seem downright bland) ends in a fiery death for the gang member self-labeled as "The Nightrider," Max finds himself as the target of a vicious group of marauders, who are not only hell-bent on avenging their fallen comrade, but who seemingly have adopted the way of life that can only be found in philosophical doctrines--this being the brutish State of Nature. They pillage, they plunder, they sexually molest anyone they can find, all while being led by a man named Toe-cutter. Max will have to walk the fine line between violence and insanity, as his life will be turned upside down by the reckless actions of this pack of disgruntled raiders.

    Although this picture can certainly be characterized as a simple action film, whose conflict becomes a symbolic clash between law and lawlessness (or in the film's context--a battle of "the Scags versus the Bronzes," the latter of which alludes to the bronze badge carried by law enforcement and the former a slang term for the raging motorcyclists), its soul is undoubtedly tied to this single character study, which is perfectly executed by an extremely young Mel Gibson. Max is a character doomed by cosmic irony, which becomes more evident as the series progresses, yet it is this internal conflict and struggle for human dignity that makes him all the more compelling. He not only doesn't want to kill or be killed for that matter, but he refuses to succumb to this instinctive insanity that has taken hold of humanity.  
    The scene with the greatest emotional impact (other than, of course, the traumatic event that shapes Max's outlook on life, which can be deemed rather overdramatic), and arguably the most important scene in the film itself, takes place after the climax and in the denouement. Gibson fills the screen with this sense of repressed anger and quiet rage, which becomes quite frightening; not necessarily because of his tone or actions, but because of the progression of his character. His restraint here is impeccable, and this cannot be overstated. It is at this point that he actually becomes "Mad Max," and that we realize that the action genre will never be the same. Thank God for that.  

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