Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Four Stars

By: Joshua Ferguson

Roger Ebert famously explained that, “it's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it.” The thrilling, epic Mad Max: Fury Road serves as definitive proof of that maxim. With dynamic direction that actually holds on the action and the actors, director George Miller allows us to clearly see, and thus truly feel, this Cirque du Soleil of destruction he has created.

Wonderful performances by stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, as well as by the extensive supporting cast, elevate the minimal plot by suggesting unseen backstories and sidestories with little more than a longing look or knowing sigh. This gives a depth to the characters, and by extension the plot, which serves to give a weight to the proceedings.

We open, as one would expect of a Mad Max movie, on a lone man standing in harsh, expansive desert.  The world has been killed and replaced with colonies built around the necessities of life that they control. In this dystopian future, those essentials are water, oil, and bullets. A band of merry maniacs, controlled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Bryne), captures the titular Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and hauls him to their enclave built around a fresh supply of water.  Soon after his arrival, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a driver for Immortan Joe, leads a convoy away from this territory to exchange water for oil in a nearby district.  Furiosa, however, uses this trip as her chance to flee Immortan Joe in search of literal greener pastures.  She strives to return to the place of her birth, the Green Place.  With her, she smuggles out Immortan Joe’s five concubines, women whose sole purpose is to bear offspring for Joe. 

Upon learning of this betrayal, Joe gathers his band of warriors, with Max in tow, and the chase is on.  And, oh, what a chase it is. With scant let up, the remaining screen time is filled with dozens of vehicles and hundreds of men, with all manner of spikes and fire and fury, seeking only to stop Furiosa’s tanker and retrieve Joe’s property. Eventually, after many unsure glances and terse exchanges, Max and Furiosa work together to fight off the angry hordes, search for the Green Place, and attempt redemption for unspoken past transgressions.

Any further description of the plot would serve little purpose. While most modern action films use chase scenes and explosions to cover up for and distract from weak stories, the action in Mad Max: Fury Road IS the story. George Miller not only knows how to form every shot in a filmmaker’s arsenal, he knows when and why to use them. In short, he has created a masterpiece of the genre and one I suspect that will be studied in film schools for years to come.

Let me close with a movie review cliché. During one of the more harrowing moments of the film, I realized that not only were my teeth clinched, I was literally on the edge of my seat. I don’t believe a film has ever generated such a physical reaction from me before. And I’m confident it will be some time before one does again.

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