- Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky
- Joanne Samuel as Jessie Rockatansky
- Hugh Keays-Byrne as Toecutter
- Steve Bisley as Goose
- Tim Burns as Johnny the Boy
A highly influential movie on futuristic action flicks, Mad Max made a name for George Miller and its young star Mel Gibson. Although made on a shoestring budget, it’s a film that reverberates with apocalyptic madness and hell for leather action. It may not have the non-stop craziness and the big budget scope of later films in the series, but Mad Max still retains an electrifying and intense impact to this day.
In the future, the Australian highways and surrounding areas are bleak and violent shadows of their former selves. There is no order in this world as psychopathic motorbike gangs terrorise innocent people, heroes seem to be no more and civilisation is almost non-existent. From what is left of the police force now called MFP, we have Max; a good cop just wanting to retire with his wife Jessie and young son, but who is constantly having to deal with the madness around him in the form of marauding crazed bikers. Max is disillusioned with the barren wasteland and the police force and just wants out of it as soon as he can so he can live what is left of a civilised life. In the rip-roaring opening scenes, Max is involved in a high-speed chase with a deranged biker knows as Nightrider. The pedal to the metal chase ends with Nightrider’s fiery and explosive death. Because of this, many of his psychopathic cohorts, led by the vicious Toecutter, descend upon the surrounding areas, plaguing the innocent people they pass on the way. Angered by the death of one of their own, the gang decide to get even by brutally injuring Max’s best friend and fellow cop Goose. They then take things one step further by killing Jessie and her son. Broken inside by this, Max straps on his leathers and jumps in his high-powered car with revenge and uncontrollable rage the only things driving him on as he hunts down the gang responsible for shattering his life.
Considering the low budget, George Miller in his directorial debut contributes elements of great style and action. He paints a hauntingly grim picture of the future, capturing a dust bowl atmosphere of no hope and insanity breeding everywhere. Mad Max stands as an influential film because of that picture, but also for the stunts and camerawork. The camera glides at a truly unnatural speed around these brutal events, giving them extra moments of shock and awe. Miller certainly has an assured hand when directing the action sequences and gives them a very frenetic quality. Where Mad Max falters is the pacing, which at times can’t balance the seriousness and action. After the high-octane opening, events slow down to focus on exposition. As the first film in the franchise it is understandable to do this, but it does make the narrative lull. Yet when the violence and carnage hits, it becomes a hell of a revenge-riddled ride in the last hour for both Max and the audience. Burning like a turbo booster, the action on display is explosive and brutal. Standout scenes are the opening chase which ends in an inferno and Max giving a crazed biker two choices of escape before the car he is tied to explodes. So even though the pace lulls very much in the middle, it certainly builds up to the unleashing of madness and violence. A perfectly building score helps aid the flat parts of the narrative and chart Max’s descent into revenge from which no one is safe.
A young Mel Gibson is excellent in the role of the eponymous cop; showing us with skill the broken soul of a good man being replaced with intense anger and deep fury as he sets out to destroy those who have torn his life into pieces. It is truly a star-making role for Gibson which would lead him all the way to the top of the crop of actors. Joanne Samuel radiates innocence in the secondary role of Max’s tragic wife. As the leader of the vicious biker gang, Hugh Keays-Byrne is unpredictable and crazy as hell. Steve Bisley makes his mark as the rather unfortunate Goose, while Tim Burns is wildly convincing and deliriously creepy as the warped Johnny the Boy. All the characters are played well, but it’s Gibson’s turn as the good cop who goes vigilante which is the most memorable.
Bristling with innovative ideas and well-mounted foundations, Mad Max is an excellent introduction to the character and the eventual series of films he would populate.