A few years in the future and society is gradually breaking down. Out on the highways of the Australian Outback, lawlessness has taken hold faster than elsewhere, and the police must routinely chase down outlaw drivers and gangs as they hurtle along the roads at dangerous speeds. That is what happening today, as a criminal named Nightrider (Vincent Gil) rockets towards oblivion with the cops in hot pursuit. Those police cars and bikes fall by the wayside so that the only man who can catch up with him is Officer Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) - but the chase will not end well...
This Australian sensation, which spawned countless imitators including its own sequels (Mad Max 2, aka The Road Warrior, is arguably one of the most influential science fiction action movies ever created), was made on a surprisingly low budget considering the high levels of tension and spectacular stunts it showcased. Scripted by director George Miller, his feature length debut, and James McCausland, it was inspired by both the car crashes Miller had witnessed as a medical student (he had lost friends in such accidents) and the country's petrol rationing of the 1970s which had led to violence, and you could say it led to cinematic violence as well.
If you're used to the Mad Max of those sequels, then you may be disappointed to see he doesn't really get "mad" until the last twenty minutes, up to that point he's a law abiding citizen harried by a job he feels is dehumanising him. Certainly the roaming gangs don't help, making the film seem like a biker movie much like its most obvious predecessor, Stone. more than a post apocalyptic thriller (Miller was greatly impressed by Harlan Ellison adaptation A Boy and His Dog), or even a western with motor vehicles, with the baddies outrunning the law, and the law outnumbered and frustrated by the way they are impotent in the face of the rising tide of society's decay.
There has been no atomic war, no great disaster, things have simply fallen apart and it's that sense of entropy that gives the film it's special atmosphere. In its way, it treated rural Australia in the same manner that the crisis-hit New York City was being portrayed in America, but with a particular Aussie sensibility rendering the atmosphere both alien, even excitingly exotic, and uneasily believable that the world could tip over to this state sometime soon. The only thing that gives Max his reason for living are his friendship with his comrades, and more importantly the loving relationship he has with his wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and their small son (bizarrely and unglamorously named Sprog). It doesn't take much to work out that taking them out of the equation is enough to push the black leather-uniformed hero over the edge.
In the more sentimental sequences around the halfway mark the film seems misjudged, too sugary for the rougher environment they exist in, but one supposes they're placed where they are for contrast. It's the action that will stick in your memory, however, as the gang arriving in the area to retrieve Nightrider's body, led by the vicious and multi-accented Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) (whose performance was messed with in the American dubbed release); they cause havoc, first with two innocent drivers and then closer to home for Max, disposing of his friend Goose (Steve Bisley) in a harrowing confrontation. And so the chaos encroaches on Max's life, inexorably turning him into a creature of pure vengeance. It's a bleak tale despite moments of grim humour, and the sequels bettered it in many ways, but the original has a grim power all its own - and those stunts are a minor miracle of ambition on low budgets, not least because no one was killed, a true example of outlaw moviemaking in more ways than one. A weird combination of the down and dirty, the over the top, even the operatic, with the downright nasty: Max's final scene a classic of its kind Music by Brian May.
The nineties saw him offer medical drama Lorenzo's Oil (he was once a medical student) plus curious sequel Babe: Pig in the City and in the 2000s he enjoyed the international success of the animated Happy Feet and its sequel. In 2015 he successfully revived his most celebrated franchise in Mad Max: Fury Road. Not to be confused with the other Australian director George Miller.