Nightrider: I am the Nightrider. I’m a fuel injected suicide machine. I am the rocker, I am the roller, I am the out-of-controller!
Director: George Miller
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward
Synopsis: In the near future an Australian policeman pursues a gang terrorizing the streets.
From the opening shots of Mel Gibson we only get hints of how much of a bad-ass this character is. We don’t see him directly in the opening scene however director George Miller builds him up by showing us only close-ups of his shades as he sits in his car waiting for trouble to come to him. He is the classic Western loner in the style of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name Trilogy. We are automatically transported into this insane world where cops are wearing leather jackets and are speeding around in souped up cars racing with crazy deranged gang members who are screaming insane monologues as their women look on with equally deranged affection. Welcome to George Miller’s vision of a dystopian Australian future, with endless roads and insane drivers who battle their war in their cars. The film is quintessentially Australian with its shots of people commuting in local pubs and speaking in Australian slang. It also has this hyperactive style that would be replicated into later Australian films such as Strictly Ballroom and Chopper. Everyone talks fast, and the camera cuts and pans at a break neck speed. The style is undeniably its own and Miller shows a maturity as a filmmaker from this original film in the Mad Max franchise.
The plot is a simple cat and mouse chase between Max and Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Toecutter’s gang are terrorizing the simple suburbs of this unnamed town in Australia. The film doesn’t even turn into a revenge thriller until the final fifteen minutes. I remember seeing this film as a child and (spoiler alert) I remembered his family dying a lot sooner and Gibson going on a bloody revenge fueled killing spree. Re-watching the film today it is not the case. Miller is more interested in world building. Introducing the lone heroic cop who can take down any gang. He juxtaposes the early scenes of Max’s heroics with Max at home with his family in a peaceful environment enjoying time with his wife and baby son. These scenes show a suburb not too far away from 70s Australia and most of this first film take place in a pretty standard Australian suburban setting. It is not until the sequel that Max wonders a barren sand filled landscape. This film is centered mostly in the real 70s Australia despite the police wearing casual biker outfits. Most of the police drive souped up cars to pursue criminals. Most of the film revolves around Toecutter’s gang terrorizing the town. It is a classic western in that way with the townspeople being terrorized by a gang and a lone gunslinger coming to their aid. However this film takes place in Australia and the lone gunslinger is replaced with a cop who loves his car.
Gibson is fantastic as the hero showing both a soft side with his family and a dangerous side on the streets pursuing his prey. Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Toecutter is a deranged psycho the perfect flipside of Max’s hero. Miller’s direction is fantastic with breathtaking car chases throughout. His film is an iconic classic however it isn’t perfect. It doesn’t reach the highs of a dystopian classic such as A Clockwork Orange even though the gangs appear as though they walked straight off of Kubrick’s set. The film is ultimately a standard cop versus gang drama. Films such as Kill Bill, Death Proof and Drive are clearly influenced by this film and are ultimately superior. The film introduces us to a world of deranged bikers, wild cops and oblivious bystanders but the world building doesn’t reach its heights until its superior sequel.
Rating: 3.5 Stars