Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

A.O. Scott, in his insightful review in the New York Times of the film Mad Max: Fury Road, wrote that this film isn’t "about heroism... it’s about revolution." Perhaps that is the reason why this franchise reboot by its original director feels as fresh as the original film did back in 1980 when it was just an Australian low budget, sleeper exploitation movie starring a then unknown Mel Gibson. George Miller has gone back to his original creation and he has brought with him an arsenal of talent to bring it up to date. Junkie XL's musical score, with its deep string chords and clever riffs on Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem, is a memorable asset to the film. Likewise, master cinematographer John Seale agreed to come out of retirement for this film, and his work is spectacular. All shot digitally, using an arsenal of new cameras including the Arri Alexa Plus. It is one of the most beautifully shot films in recent memory.

Once again we are in a post-Apocalyptic world (devoid of any visible zombies, although I'm sure they are out there in the vast empty wasteland that Earth has become) where gasoline and water are scarce commodities, and where the dignity of what's left of mankind has been trampled by ruthless chieftains like Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who keeps a harem of women, and whose army of War Boys capture Max (Tom Hardy). Our eponymous hero is a loner who can easily be an American hero right out of the pages of James Fenimore Cooper. He is taken prisoner by Immortan Joe's men and turned into a "blood bag" for a sick War Boy named Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) drives off-course in her mission to find gasoline, Immortan Joe realizes that she has betrayed him by stealing some of his women, one of whom is pregnant. And the chase is on!  This is when the movie gets loud, down and dirty: but you wouldn't have it otherwise. It is, after all, a Mad Max movie!

But this film goes beyond the twisted metal and explosions that are the bread and butter of the summer cinematic season. At the heart of Fury Road is a tale of vengeance and redemption, all major themes of the American western, a genre that this film often pays tribute to, especially in its photographic wide open vistas and in the depiction of its laconic hero. Or heroine, for that matter. This film is very much about Ms. Theron's character: a damaged, but strong-willed, valiant woman with a prosthetic arm. She belongs to the same breed as Julie Christie in Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller or Claudia Cardinale in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. By far, it is the feminist film of the year.

The film is also impressive when it comes to the amount of images that linger in one's mind. George Miller knows how to set up a scene and how much to hold a shot so that it becomes indelible. The opening sequence of Max chomping down on a live two-headed gecko, and a truly surreal nighttime shot of people on stilts walking through a poisonous bog are two memorable moments from this film.

Finally a winner in a summer season of many forgettable films. 

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