Mad Max (1979)

Rating: C

Dir: George Miller
Star: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley

Disappointing. That’s probably the way to sum this up, since it seems a poorly under-cooked, vague concept with some dreadful pacing. All you get in the way of a setting is that it takes place “a few years from now”, which compares badly with the elaborate back-story developed in the sequel. The main theme is revenge, but it’s only in the last fifteen minutes patrol officer Max Rockatansky (Gibson) unleashes his vengeance on the bike gang led by the Toecutter (Keays-Byrne) who finally – mercifully – push Max past his breaking point. If this had happened about an hour earlier, and been followed by the slow hunting and killing of the gang, the film would have been an awful lot better. Instead, he ends up having to get rid of them in bunches, and the last one he takes on isn’t even the leader. The entire story-line is botched.

Yet, unquestionably, it tapped into something, and is right there with Night of the Living Dead, as far as influence goes – it also delivered the biggest return on cost of any modern movie up until Blair Witch. It’s a primeval concept: a man, thrown onto his own strength, faces a barbarian enemy with no moral scruples, and made Gibson a star [he was only paid $15K for his role here]. He certainly looks the part, and the action sequences are breathtakingly intense, particularly the opening chase: before becoming a director, Miller worked in an emergency room, so had personal knowledge of vehicular mayhem. These aspects keep things ticking over: in hindsight, it feels like a dry-run for part two, where the elements would come together with much more success.