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Mad Max (1979)
Mad Max is a 1979 Australian post-apocalyptic action film directed by George Miller and revised by Miller and Byron Kennedy over the original script by James McCausland. The film stars Mel Gibson, who was unknown at the time. Its narrative based on the traditional western genre, Mad Max tells a story of breakdown of society, love and revenge. It became a top-grossing Australian film and has been credited for further opening up the global market to Australian New Wave films. The film was the first Australian film to be shot with a widescreen anamorphic lens. The first film in the series, Mad Max spawned sequels Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior in 1981 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. In a dystopian future Australia, law & order has begun to break down. Berserk motorcycle gang member Crawford "Nightrider" Montizano has escaped police custody and is attempting to outrun the Main Force Patrol (MFP) in a stolen Pursuit Special (Holden Monaro). Though he manages to elude his initial pursuers, the MFP's top pursuit man, Max Rockatansky, then engages the less-skilled Nightrider in a high-speed chase, resulting in the death of Nightrider in a fiery crash.
"They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give 'em back their heroes!" Those empty words come from the chief of police (Roger Ward) to his top dog on the force. Mad Max, read as a fairy tale horror film, follows the logic of a Jacobean tragedy. The hero has everything he loves stripped away, then enacts a horrible revenge on those who wronged him. George Miller, who went on to direct the two sequels and to produce the more benevolent Babe, crafted a low budget vision of slow burning madness on the road through a series of high-octane chase sequences.
Set in Australia "a few years from now," things have fallen apart. A handful of die-hard policemen operate out of their cars (labeled "Pursuit" or "Interception") to fend off roving bands of biker gangs. Those roving marauders pillage, rape, and destroy everything in their path along the handful of thinly populated shanty towns or, more often, the long, lonely stretches of road through empty wastelands.
Right from the start, a brutal chase sequence offers a highway's eye view of a police car zooming after some bushwhacking thug known as the Night Rider (Vince Gil), who, together with his floozie girlfriend, has been tearing up the roads. After Night Rider demolishes the pursuit vehicle and nearly kills one of the young cops on his tail, the cops send in Max Rockatansky, played by a very young Mel Gibson. Max relentlessly chases the Night Rider down and stampedes him into a dangerous construction area. It's a killing on the road, death by fire.
After the Night Rider is brought to justice, his vicious crew of friends ride into town on their bikes (led by Hugh Keays-Byrne's wild-eyed Toecutter). After a series of incidents where they brutalize some civilians for fun, particularly a hippie couple that suffers a disturbing fate (after their car is demolished, of course) they go after Max, his partner, and his family.
Mel Gibson brings a strong presence and easy confidence to Max, before his stardom kicked in with the Lethal Weapon series. He's young, troubled, trying to do the right thing. He's loving and gentle with wife, paternal with child. In the scenes on the road, however, Gibson's steely-eyed resolution is not unlike Gary Cooper in High Noon. And after Max leaves the police force mid-film to take his family off to the country (and away from hell), the villains will follow and ultimately transform him (through bloodshed) into something new, no better than they are. That's the tragedy of Mad Max, and the lasting impact it has beyond the superbly orchestrated chase setpieces (perfected in Miller's follow-up, The Road Warrior). Max's personality burns away until he becomes part of the car, or the gun -- a machine intent on two things: speed and death.