Mad Max (1979)

There's not much to say about this classic post apocalyptic film.  For a stunt/revenge flick it's got a surprisingly intriguing setting, memorable characters, and a great story that leaves you thinking about the fine line between justice and vigilantism (alternately: AWESOME STUNTZZZ).

There are two things that are really interesting about this movie.  The first is how the setting is revealed extremely naturally, with very little exposition.  It's obvious that society has broken down to some extent, but there is no boring text crawl at the beginning of the movie telling us what exactly happened.  Gangs roam around terrorizing people, and the police are basically undermanned and powerless.  A legal structure still exists but you get the feeling that it is just a desperate attempt at pretending that society can still function in a civilized manner.  On the other hand, people still have jobs, can purchase goods and services, and technology in general still exists.

The second really interesting thing is of course the examination of the fine lines that exist between justice and vigilantism, and protecting society from predators and hunting them down in cold blood.  You often get the sense in this movie that the police force is merely another gang- albeit a gang that is concerned with tracking down murderers and rapists.

So these two aspects of the movie give you a lot to think about.  How is the rest?  Pretty great actually.  Performances are great all around, dialog is natural, and the movie alternates expertly between high-octane car stunts and slow panning nature shots.  Even the uniforms that cops all wear are awesome.

There is a single negative thing I have got to talk about.  The soundtrack can be pretty awful.  In general it just stays in the background and you don't notice it much, but during the last part of the movie- when Max becomes Mad Max and hunts down the remaining gang members- it just ruins the whole thing.  These scenes should be tragic- as a character mentions earlier in the movie, no one believes in heroes anymore, and basically the last hero in the movie has lost his way and no longer trusts the system.  But then the soundtrack is playing triumphant hero music every time Max takes out a bad guy.  It takes a movie that is really quite intelligent and reduces it to a stupid revenge flick over the course of five minutes.

Although the movie is kind of ruined during the last few scenes, it is otherwise perfect and should not be missed by anyone interesting in genre films.  This movie went on to spawn two sequels- one really excellent, one okay... and also influenced a bunch of Italian ripoffs and the excellent Hokuto no Ken/Fist of the Northstar Japanese comic/cartoon.  If you have any interest in that stuff and have not seen Mad Max, you owe it to yourself to watch this classic.