For those not familiar with the term Ozploitation, I can sum it up (I hope) like this: Australian Exploitation films that are as violent or more violent than their American counterparts but set firmly in the land Down Under. There is a company called Umbrella, based in Australia, who sell many, many unseen flicks from Aussie Land that any cinephile worth their salt should seek out immediately. I’ve seen a few but only scratched the surface for what this country has as their hidden cinematic gems. One of those gems gave rise to a franchise that had its most recent entry only a few years ago and also started the career of Mel Gibson. That film is George Miller’s Mad Max.
Everyone knows the souped up cars and the psychopaths who drive them from the later entries and the myriad of copycats and rip-offs that came in its wake but the first film was the beginnings of the legend that is Max Rockatansky or Mad Max. The movie opens on a shot of the appropriately named Anarchie Road in the foreground and a yellow, blue, and red painted muscle car with PURSUIT written on the trunk. Police chatter is heard and a stolen car has been reported but not just any car, it is a police vehicle driven by a maniac with his girlfriend sitting shotgun. That maniac is the Nightrider (Gil) and he’s taken this police car to impress Toecutter (Keays-Byrne) who we will meet later in the film. The scene that unfolds is a superbly edited sequence as it shows the cops who will give chase intercut with Nightrider and another, mysterious person we haven’t met yet. A dangerous chase winds through open roads and into a small town as Nightrider laughs into the radio, egging the police on. He narrowly misses a child that had wandered into the street which shows you that this guy does not care who is in his w ay, he’ll run you down. One by one, the pursuit cars are unable to take Nightrider out and they reach out to Max (Gibson). His car is black and mean and has INTERCEPTOR emblazoned on the back, this is the guy you don’t want to see flashing his blue light behind you and Nightrider has no idea his joyride is coming to an end. Max takes out the Nightrider but also unknowingly stirs a hornet’s nest that will set him on a collision course with the previously mentioned Toecutter. In terms of road movies, this one definitely lays the groundwork that so many films follow in as the frenetic camerawork and editing keep you on your toes throughout the movie’s brisk run time. There is also some genuine character building moments as Max is shown to be a loving family man whose family keeps him anchored in a world that is slowly going crazy and eating itself. Fed up, Max goes to his Captain, Fifi (Ward), and quits but rather than let his best man go, gives Max a holiday with his wife and son to disconnect from the frenetic life he has been living recently. He knows Max will come back, he can’t do anything else. While at a beach town to unwind, Toecutter and his crew have also come to soak up the sun and they come across Jessie (Samuel) as she’s leaving an ice cream shop. Toecutter creeps up on her like the slime he is and thinks he is going to have his way with her but she kicks him in the dick and smashes her ice cream in his face and hurries off. She grabs Max and hauls ass away from the gang. They inevitably catch up to her and their son and it leads to their death which is the final nail in Max’s humanity. He remarked earlier in the film that his badge was the only thing separating him from the bandits roaming the roads, now he is one of them, now he is out for revenge.
Definitely one of the most recognized names in the pantheon of Ozploitation movies, Mad Max is the beginning of a franchise that has continued to present day. Three sequels have come since we first took that trip down Anarchie Road with the man who is now legend, Mad Max Rockatansky.
I had expected Mad Max to be a dystopian future bloodbath, but I guess all of that happens in the sequel. This film is much more a straightforward cop film with a young Mel Gibson leading the pack.
Mad Max is a ruthless, action-packed thrill ride that will leave you gasping several times throughout. The villains are downright insane and it's very satisfying to watch Max take them out. I guess my only gripe with the film is that it wasn't the post-apocalyptic adventure I expected. But I guess I'll have to watch The Road Warrior for that.
George Miller's Mad Max is both a downright entertaining movie and perfectly sets up the series for later installments. Mel Gibson does a great job leading the pack of good guys and Hugh Keays-Byrne is terrifying as the lead villain of a bloodthirsty gang of marauders. While it's not the post-apocalyptic future the series is known for, it still has its own, unique time setting that gives the film its own distinct feeling. A great start to one of cinema's most adrenaline fueled franchises.
Mel Gibson stars as the titular character that would give him the breakthrough success he was looking for. It's easy to see why as he plays the character of 'Mad' Max Rockatansky perfectly. He portrays a sympathetic, yet badass, character the audience can easily root for; all with very little dialogue. Hugh Keays-Byrne also does a wonderful job as the villain, Toecutter. He is a terrifying and, clearly, crazy villain. Kudos also have to go to the director, George Miller. This was his directorial debut and you can see a lot of his trademarks already. The main one being his love of practical effects. Mad Max features some insane stunts that are all the more awesome due to Miller's decision to actually have them done in front of the camera, instead of a computer later.
Mad Max is a great start to this franchise. It sets the world up and creates some truly memorable characters. Mel Gibson showed the world he had the chops to lead a movie and George Miller proved to be a director to look out for. The movie's pre-apocalyptic setting also works in its favor, showing a society that is slowly collapsing. I definitely look forward to where the franchise goes from here.