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I know, I know. Everybody and their mother loves the new movie tribute to stunt performers and second unit directors, Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s received 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and has made a fortune at the box office.
But I just didn’t get it.
As far as I can tell, the plot of the movie revolves around The Man With No Name who helps an Amazon with one arm rescue a bunch of Playboy playmates from Bane and his army of albino soldiers who all have great six packs in a post-apocalyptic world of little water, and worse, little gas.
In other words, we’re in the land of pure camp, but I’m not sure it’s of the high variety.
Mad Max: Fury Road is not so much directed (credited to George Miller, who did the original trio of films) as edited (Margaret Sixel, who did Happy Feet) and second unitted the hell out of (by too many people to name). It’s filled with huge action scenes inspired by demotion derbies and monster truck rallies; plenty of explosions; and moments where you go, “Gee, that was kinda neat”, as if you were at a Fourth of July fireworks display.
But not much else.
The movie starts out, in many ways, in the middle of act one. Max (Tom Hardy, one of our finest contemporary actors) is abducted by some warriors who take him to a city made of mesas in which the tallest one is filled with greenery and gardens while the ground is filled with the starving masses. There he is used to provide blood to one of the albino warriors (Nicholas Hoult).
The city is ruled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Toe Cutter in the earlier Mad Max), who holds power because he controls the water and has created a religion that keeps his warriors faithful to him.
Complications ensue when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, one of our finest contemporary actors) goes on a routine run to a nearby gas station (sorry, an oil refinery), but then goes rogue by running off with Immortan Joe’s wives, desiring to rescue them from this evil, perverted tyrant and take them to her childhood home which she remembers as verdant and green.
Now all of this you sort of have to put together yourself. The filmmakers don’t believe in dilly-dallying over any of this or letting you get to know the characters.
And because of this, I found it a bit hard to get involved since I had no emotional context for anything that happens to anyone. Or as we say in the biz: I just didn’t care.
The story picks up and gains more interest when Max and Furiosa join forces to save the wives. At this point, the plot is much clearer and focused (if not particularly clever or original) and the characters are now someone I knew well enough to care about and I did find myself rooting for the ones who I was supposed to root for at times.
But because I was never that involved, my mind started wandering and did the worst thing one can do about a movie like this: I started thinking about it.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a story that takes place over a series of days in which no one eats, pisses or shits.
It’s a movie where no matter how many cars are blown up, two more seem to take its place, and no matter how many soldiers are killed, it felt like four more take their place (it’s like a Hydra on steroids).
It begins with Furiosa supposedly going to that oil refinery, though I wasn’t sure why since they don’t seem to need gas except to go to that oil refinery to get more gas (the same for the bullet farm).
When Furiosa returns to take over Immortan Joe’s kingdom at the end, I didn’t know how that was going to help the people: the water still has to be rationed, and there certainly isn’t enough food to provide for everyone’s needs, so no problems have really been resolved—you just have a new dictator, as benevolent as she may be.
And I just wasn’t sure how Max survives on a day to day basis, how he gets food, water and gasoline in a land where no matter where you go, someone is trying to kill you.
Basically, the world makes as much sense as it does in the film The Road, the adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel.
Now I know what you are going to say. I just didn’t get it.
And you know what? You are so right. I didn’t. I just didn’t.
The screenplay is by three people: a storyboard artist (Brendan McCarthy); an actor of no particular renown who was in the original Mad Max (Nico Lathouris); and a director who co-wrote the original series of films (Miller). This might explain a lot.
The new inspired by true events film In the Name of My Daughter is, at my count, the sixth collaboration between Catherine Deneuve and director André Téchiné, and Ms. Deneuve is her usual radiant and wonderful self. It’s the 1970’s and she plays Renée Le Roux, the owner of a casino at a time when the mob is moving in and trying to take over. She is proud and determined to not let them have hers.
To fight back, she at first relies on the help of a young lawyer, Maurice (Guillaume Canet). But when his ambition become too large, it exceeds his grasp and Renée fires him. So he seduces her daughter Agnés (Adéle Haenel) and manipulates her into voting her mother out of control of the casino. The casino is then sold to the mob to be torn down for new housing.
But Agnés, who has become obsessed with Maurice, disappears without ever being found, eventually leading to a sort of epilog that takes place long after the events.
In the Name of My Daughter starts out well and whenever Deneuve is on the screen, the plot is strong and interesting. The fight for control of the casino is rather riveting and very well told.
But once it all gets off this and the cameras get turned onto Agnés and Maurice, everything started to stall for me.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that Agnés never becomes a real person. She is reduced to a stereotype of a woman who can’t control her emotions and her love for a man because, well, she’s a woman, you know, and, well, women are emotional creatures who have little control over their feelings and can be easily manipulated by men to do whatever the man wants.
The second issue is the casting of Canet as Maurice. He’s certainly not bad looking and I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers, but it’s just a little hard to believe that this somewhat bland personage could possibly be the alpha-male ladies’ man who not only has several mistresses, but mistresses who don’t care that he has all these other mistresses, and will even give him money to help him out. I can’t figure out why the women in the movie didn’t grow bored of him long before he grew bored of them.
It’s like casting Leslie Howard instead of Clark Gable. It just doesn’t really compute.
The epilogue takes place twenty years later, as Renée suddenly decides out of nowhere and for no discernable reason that I could tell (though it could be that it was just a bit too subtle) to petition the court to try to prosecute Maurice for Agnés’ murder. Maurice returns from where he is living in Panama to clear his name.
If my memory serves me correctly, it goes something like this: he’s found guilty, then not guilty on appeal, then guilty on appeal.
Since there is no body and no proof that Agnés is even dead, let’s just say that this didn’t encourage a lot faith in me for the French judicial system.
The screenplay is by Cédric Anger (who collaborated on the highly recommended La petit lieutenant); Jean-Charles Le Roux, who co-wrote the book the film is based on with his mother Rénee Le Roux; and the director Téchiné.