Thursday, 14 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015/US/Australia)

Julien Faddoul

*** (3 stars)

d – George Miller
w – George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris
ph – John Seale
pd – Colin Gibson
m – Junkie XL
ed – Margaret Sixel
cos – Jenny Beaven

p – George Miller, Doug Mitchell, P.J. Voeten

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Nathan Jones, Adelaide Clemens, Richard Norton, Courtney Eaton, Abbey Lee

"What a day! What a lovely day"! To call Mad Max: Fury Road a miracle is a pretty miserable statement. When a rugged action film that costs $150 million, a sequel made 30 years after it’s previous installment, and is released during the summer isn’t altogether embarrassing or inept, is, in the current cinema, a miracle…well…count your blessings. What’s so illuminating about George Miller’s film is that it isn’t magic at all, but a meticulously constructed piece of cinema made by a group of (intelligent) people, a fact that, when rooted in the film’s presence, seems inconceivable.

 “Overwhelming” is really the optimum word here. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film so filled with strabismus ticks and seeded ideology that its difficult to take in at first. Many people who were alive when the first Mad Max films came out (not me) speak of them with similar rhetoric. In truth, this film is really a step beyond those.

To attempt a synopsis for this film seems quixotic to me, as after a brief prologue reminding those who don’t remember the previous films who exactly Mad Max is (a former Australian policeman turned Road Warrior after the murder of his wife and child in the year 2060), Mr Miller assembles his dystopia with a series of striking images and a mild vernacular lesson. From then, the film progresses into what feels like one gigantic action extravaganza. Nevertheless…

After Max (Tom Hardy) is apprehended and tortured by a band of albino zealots, he is brought to a citadel ruled by King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a gas mask-wearing dictator. There his application is to be a human blood bag for a sick member of Joe’s army, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Immortan Joe controls the region’s water, milk and gasoline supply and therefore, controls those who need them.

Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a high ranking officer of the citadel, steals Joe’s slave wives (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, and Courtney Eaton) and endeavors to convey them to a paradise known as The Green Place.

The whole plot is at its best, goofy and at its worse, labored. But, yeah, who cares? It’s the film’s themes that radiate through the screen, as apposed to its story. Many critics will articulate – and they should – that the film depicts a world where possession and oppression of women will become man’s undoing. Frankly, this is really the women’s picture: it’s Furiosa and the wives who provide not only the film’s true arc but enable most of the action. 

Ms Theron’s casting here is perfect; not since Sigourney Weaver has an American actress possessed such command on screen. Mr Hardy equals her, playing Max madder than Mel Gibson ever did (though those used to the Gibson charisma will miss it here – he doesn’t look or sound like him). Surprisingly, it’s Mr Hoult who almost steals the film as Nux, with a remarkable mix of derangement and vulnerability. Though really, no actor here clearly had it easy.

The film’s cinematographic and design elements (provided by John Seale, Colin Gibson and Jenny Beaven) are difficult to describe. If you can picture a combination of John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akria (1988). What is ultimately rather obvious here is that after making a detour into animation with the films Happy Feet (2006) and Happy Feet 2 (2011), Mr Miller as acquired the fastidious temperament that is compulsory for animation and has beautifully infused it into this film. His backgrounds are brimming with glittering details; the effects have sufficient weight to them.

But it’s the film’s action sequences that are going to bewitch audiences everywhere. Believe me, dear reader, when I say that for most of the film I could feel my heart pounding in my ears. The choreography that is implemented here, whether it is trucks blowing-up, faces being stabbed or sand storms obliterating everything in its path, is done with a razor sharp cinematic eye for grounded geometry and impactful backbone. The magnitude of every punch is felt.

Funnily enough, one the film’s best set-pieces is a mere hand-to-hand combat scene in the middle of the desert. Mr Miller provides us with the variables: 2 men, 6 women, a chain, 2 guns, a bolt cutter and a broken car door. With those variables, what Mr Miller composes is more riveting that what most other modern day filmmakers can do with the destruction of entire cities.

Mr Miller claims that the film was shot with 80% practical stunts. It's understandable if you choose not to believe that, further proving just how distrustful we as cinematic audiences have become. The starvation for this level of technique in mainstream Hollywood cinema is going to have critics shouting its praises to the point of unwanted inflation. Believe it or not, Mad Max: Fury Road, which despite my gushing here, is actually not the second coming of the messiah. It’s merely a skillfully crafted plunge into dark, unadulterated psychedelic action-cinema; a plunge Hollywood should take more often.

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