Brief Review: Mad Max (1979)

Mel Gibson rose to stardom after his titular turn in George Miller’s flawed cult classic. Set in a dystopian near future Australia, Mad Max is the tale of one man’s descent into madness as he seeks revenge for the death of his family at the hands of a maniacal motorcycle gang.

An adrenaline fuelled introduction sees police officer Max, a high-speed pursuit specialist, give chase to a crazed driver who calls himself the Nightrider (Vincent Gil). With his colleagues unable to stop Nightrider, it falls on Max to bring an end to it. It’s an exciting, well-orchestrated chase that culminates in Nightrider’s fiery death.

It transpires that Nightrider was a valued member of a berserk motorcycle gang called The Acolytes. Upon learning of their friend’s demise, the Acolytes, led by the mysterious Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), set out to avenge him.

With such an exciting opening, it’s unfortunate that Mad Max slows to a crawl shortly afterwards. It’s hardly surprising seeing as there’s little in the way of interesting characters. The film is at its weakest when it’s relying on the characters to tell the story, but shines when the numerous chase sequences take centre stage.

Mel Gibson shows brief glimpses of his talents as a leading man, but it’s Hugh Keays-Byrne who stands out with his deliciously sinister, strangely flamboyant villain.

George Miller depicts a fascinating, if slightly odd vision of the near future. Odd because it seems that the majority of the characters, good and bad, are teetering on the brink of madness. We get the sense that we are witnessing the fall of man. The effective use of long empty highways and grassy plains gives Mad Max its iconic bleak feel.

The slow second act holds Mad Max back. Luckily it’s bookended by two fast-paced, hugely exciting ones. Whatever it lacks in depth, it makes up for in high-octane entertainment.

3-stars

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