Mad Max (1979) – George Miller

A twenty-one year old Mel Gibson put the pedal to the metal and rocketed to first cult, and then international fame alongside George Miller with the thrilling, verge of the apocalypse (which was to come between films), action-packed Mad Max, which is my next stop with the Sci-Fi Chronicles book.

Civilisation is crumbling in Australia, the police are under-financed, and fight to stay alive every day on patrol. Max (Gibson) is kept sane by the love of his wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), new child, his pal, Goose (Steve Bisley) and a dedication to the job. But when these become unbalanced as the dangerous Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

Outfitted with the last of the V8 Interceptors, Max is driven to edge of madness and goes after those responsible for it.

An action-packed thrill ride with automotive destruction that had not been seen up until that point (though Mad Max 2: Road Warrior and subsequent films upped that ante). Fast-paced, the sentimentality is kept to the the bare minimum to move the story along and give Max motivation even as the world crumbles down him, literally and figuratively.

Gibson, in his performance, hints at the star power to come, and he settles into, what will become one of his most iconic roles with an ease that belies his young age in the film.

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Miller used this debut film to make a name for himself, and put Australia on the cinematic map. He’s got an eye for action beats, and his car chase sequences are nigh unparalleled (something else we would see over the evolution of the films as they just get louder, more expansive, and more thrilling).

And who doesn’t love that climactic choice that Max gives Toecutter’s friend, Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns)at the end of the film? It’s dark, brutal, and tells us exactly where Max’s character is emotionally and mentally.

The chase sequences are the highlight of the film, however, as the open Australian road unwinds before the thundering wheels of the most dangerous vehicles on the road.

Toecutter is appropriately vicious, and the film is decidedly dark despite it’s beautiful locations. Of course, that darkness infects Max, but will he still remain a good man after all he’s been through, or will the abyss of the dark open road swallow him whole as he ventures into a world that he is forced to deal with.

Here we are over 35 years later, and the film looks amazing, sure, the outfits may be a little dated but the action beats are still intense. The film, itself, has an exploitation feel to it and is recognisably low-budget, but that just adds to the genius of the film-making behind it.

Still love this one.

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