Classic Review: Mad Max (1979)

By: Daniel Chadwick-Shubat

Mad Max is one of the best revenge flicks ever made. While its plot is simple and the acting is okay, what makes this movie amazing is the practical effects and stunts, that put most action movies today to shame.

George Miller has created a masterpiece that will live on in history as one of the best action movies of all time. Oh and Mel Gibson is bloody spectacular as Max Rockatansky, the protagonist…

Well he’s not really a protagonist. He’s an anti hero out for revenge against Toecutter and his crazy gang of bikers, who wreak havoc all over the Australian post apocalyptic wasteland. And they killed his wife and baby. There’s a fine line between heroes and villains and Max crosses that line multiple times.

Director George Miller not only gives us a fantastic action movie, but a film that dives deep into the human psyche and shows the blurred lines of right and wrong. Mad Max brings forth some of the greatest action sequences ever witnessed on the big screen…

When Mad Max opened in the U.S., it came out of nowhere, taking the country and movie world by storm. It immediately became a cult item, putting on the forefront the reputation of Mel Gibson as one of the hottest (and coolest) stars.

It was a new type of film, an uncompromisingly brutal, post-apocalyptic action thriller from an unknown director at the time, George Miller.

Gibson plays Max Rockatansky, a policeman in the near future, which looks like one big desolate spot in the Australian outback, a sort of a war-zone battleground. Max has seen innocents and fellow officers murdered by primitive, bestial marauding bikers for whom killing, rape, and looting is a “routine” way of life.

Early on, Max says he plans to retire and spend time with his wife and son, and his boss suggests a peaceful vacation. Max’s world and value system are shattered, when a gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Burns) murders his family in retaliation for the death of one of its members.

Emotionally numb, Max straps on his helmet and rides his souped-up V8 racing machine, seek bloody revenge.

So in the last 20 minutes of the movie (Mad Max’s running time was a mere 90 minutes) Max goes off the rails destroying everything in his path. He’s gone really psychotic. Firstly he takes out a big group of the gang, making use of the nitrous oxide in his car.

Mad Max is like a Fast and Furious movie but realistic and brutally honest.

Hugh Keays-Byrne puts in a unique performance as The Toecutter, leaving me wanting more from his character. His eerie and eccentric performance as the villain of the movie creates a memorable villain, one that you want to understand and learn more about.

The “execution of the mannequin” was Mad Max’s most memorable scene. As Max chases Toecutter with his V8, they approach a truck. By the time the Toecutter sees the truck it’s too late creating a scene of absolute carnage. The thing that makes this scene phenomenal is that it was all practical effects, with Hugh Keays-Byrne being replaced by a mannequin as the truck hits the bike. A scene put together masterfully.

Finally, the most shocking and brutal scene of the movie takes place – the death of Johhny the Boy. A crazy character who the Toecutter takes under his wing who could be to the Toecutter what Wesley is to Fisk in Daredevil. Just a hell of a lot crazier.

Max handcuffs Johhny to a gas-leaking car and gives him a saw, and gives him two options. Die or cut off your arm. This is a scene that sticks in your mind long after the credits have rolled. This scene really questions Max’s intentions and sees him crossing the line between right and wrong, between hero and villain.

When it came to casting, Miller deliberately cast unknown actors, so they carried less associations with them. Mel Gibson had only made one previous movie and many of Toecutter’s gang were part of Australian outlaw motorcycle clubs, riding their own bikes in the movie.

Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played The Toecutter was quite well known in the Australian film community having previously starred in 4 feature length films. He also returned for the fourth instalment, Mad Max: Fury Road as the main antagonist.

Despite low budget and a familiar revenge plot, Mad Max is exciting due to the spectacularly staged set-pieces. Cinematographer David Eggby and stunt coordinator Grant Page do some amazing work. Much of the injuries and car crashes depicted in the movie were taken from Miller’s past experiences, having worked in a hospital before his career as a film-maker.

George Miller really demanded the attention of the film world when he made this movie. And the world answered with Mad Max grossing $100 million worldwide (before inflation to today’s dollars) on its puny $250,000 budget.

To this day it is still one of the most profitable movies ever made. With Mad Max, Miller not only catapulted Mel Gibson’s career to super-stardom, but also changed the way nerds like me view action movies. He made a movie of humongous proportions. A cult classic.

Rating: 9/10

Is the original Mad Max the best of the series? Let us know in the comments below…

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