While the low budget undoubtedly plays a hand in it, Mad Max is the epitome of narrative efficiency. It should have a big concept–a slightly post-apocalyptic future (but people still vacation and get ice cream and the beaches are nice) where the big cities are (probably) gone and the rural highways are run by gangs, the cops just another one of them–but it doesn’t. The script from James McCausland and director Miller spends no time on exposition… ever.
Instead, Max opens with a pursuit, quickly introduces the good guys, and moves on. McCausland and Miller’s narrative structure is very plain. Good guys Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley go after bad guys, things happen, then more things happen. The beauty of Max, besides David Eggby’s photography and Cliff Hayes and Tony Paterson’s astounding editing, is in the scenes. Even when they’re poorly acted (the main villain, Hugh Keays-Byrne, is laughably bad), Miller’s basing them on Western scene templates and they’re extremely engaging.
But the film’s not entirely Western–Brian May’s score is half Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock homage (to fit Miller’s similar style of certain scenes) and half sublime.
Playing the titular character, Gibson doesn’t even become the protagonist until over halfway through (Bisley’s closer to it in the first half). For a fast and cheap action picture, Miller’s telling a distressing, human story.
Nice supporting work from Joanne Samuel and Geoff Parry helps.
Max is sometimes excessive–not to mention homophobic–but never slow; it’s masterful work.
Directed by George Miller; screenplay by James McCausland and Miller, based on a story by Byron Kennedy and Miller; director of photography, David Eggby; edited by Cliff Hayes and Tony Paterson; music by Brian May; produced by Kennedy; released by Roadshow Entertainment.
Starring Mel Gibson (Max Rockatansky), Joanne Samuel (Jessie Rockatansky), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter), Steve Bisley (Jim Goose), Tim Burns (Johnny the Boy), Geoff Parry (Bubba Zanetti), Roger Ward (Fifi Macaffee), David Bracks (Mudguts), Bertrand Cadart (Clunk), Sheila Florance (May Swaisey) and Vincent Gil (The Nightrider).