Eye For Film >> Movies >> Mad Max (1979) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Made in 1979, Mad Max set the tone for Eighties action films with its futuristic setting, its vivid violence, and its lone hero trying to hold the world at bay. Gone were the Seventies science fiction heroes standing up against an autocratic society. In Mad Max, society scarcely existed any more. Though no single, definable apocalyptic event appeared to have occurred, lawlessness was rife and people struggled desperately over precious fuel. The hero, a policeman determined to restore order yet gradually losing all sense of order in his own life, stood for a generation.
The future happens fast. Everywhere, fuel prices are rising. Australia just had its first murder over water shortages. Perhaps it's time to take a look at this iconic film again.
Mad Max tells a simple story. It's not particularly well acted, though Mel Gibson's intense performance was to make him a star. Its characters are largely cartoonish and its dialogue crude. Yet it remains a powerful experience simply because it is, otherwise, so well made. The vast emptiness of the outback creates the sense that even the towns there are isolated and as vulnerable to violence as individuals. It's no time to be a family man. From the moment we see Max's wife and child we have a creeping sense of the fate which awaits them. This doesn't need to be sophisticated to make an impression - it's the very crudity of it, the simple brutality, the ordinariness, which makes it affecting. Despite the futuristic setting, nothing happens in Mad Max which couldn't happen today.
In its day, Mad Max was heavily criticised for its stark portrayal of violence (particularly because this is violence of the easily-imitated kind). It still seems pretty brutal by today's standards, which means it hasn't lost its edge. Yet none of this comes across as gratuitous. It is very much a film about violence, and about the psychological as well as physical damage that violence does. By the end, Max is no longer a traditional hero - he has become something liminal, compromised, both more and less human. He represents a turning point for the development of the hero in 20th century cinema.
Despite the passage of time and despite its several flaws, Mad Max remains essential viewing for any student of film, and an intense, exciting experience for everyone else.Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2008