George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t just one of the most thrilling action films I’ve ever seen, moving with an unstoppable rhythm and nearly chaotic gusto, but also an impressive feast for the eyes. Unlike other post-apocalyptic films of late, Miller’s vision of the future isn’t trapped in a colorless, utilitarian existence. Instead it’s veritably baroque, full of intricate details, and surprisingly decorative in the most unexpected places, while being captured with searing aggressive colors that seem to completely reject the current trend of making action films serious by draining them of color (and fun).
And while the visuals are impressive all by themselves, the film is not just an exercise on visual artistry. The sound, the editing, everything is unbelievably effective. Even the screenplay features a complexity of ideas that just took me by surprise when I first saw the film. Even the actors are impeccable, being that Charlize Theron gives here one of her best performances.
The film can remind me one minute of Stagecoach or The Wizard of Oz and the next it seems to be influenced by the cinema of Peter Weir, I would even say it seems to have been influenced by Orson Welles (what hasn’t in modern cinema?) in the way Miller insists, during most of the film, in keeping everything in sharp focus, overwhelming the audience with details and creating both a sense of visual density and a collection of astounding compositions. But the masterfulness of such a creation is a huge problem when one has to choose a shot that one deems the best, At least it was for me.
When I finished selecting screencaps from the film, instead of the usual 10 possibilities I had about 50 different options for best shot and it was quite impossible, for me to deem one better than the other. Because of this I’ve decided to post a little sample of all of those shots as well as a shot that I deem as the best shot today (I’m sure that if you ask me any other day I’ll have a different answer, there are just so many possibilities).
Because the idea of religion as a means to subjugate and control a population living in misery is such a strong part of the film and it’s perfectly visualized in such a shot.
Because it’s just so undeniably cool.
Because it’s like The Wizard of Oz on acids and because it turns the destruction of the sandstorm in a show of frighteningly violent fireworks.
Because it perfectly celebrates the way Fury Road is a demented post-apocalyptic western.
Because Furiosa is the badass action hero we deserve.
Because it shows the entire cast of heroes in a masterful composition. I just love how Miller films his cast, often showing them in the same shot all together instead of systematically separating them through close-ups like so many of today’s directors.
Because Charlize Theron is amazing as Furiosa, especially in the last third of the film where her determination and strength are mixed with a palpable sense of physical pain and desperation.
Because the visual effects are great and because ,even in the most chaotic moments of his action sequences, Miller is able of maintaining a necessary clarity without ever losing the film’s bombastic energy and sense of constant danger.
Because it’s such a baroque and exuberant shot, exploding in a chaotic storm of design elements and employing the sort of visual logic usually reserved to graphic novels and not to an action film.
But, alas, none of these are my best choice. This one is:
My "Best Shot"
The reasoning behind the choice may seem a bit simplistic and even stupid, but the fact is, I chose this shot, mainly, because of the sand. The sand, the sky and the movement.
Despite being an intensely colorful film, there are actually just two main colors in the film’s palette. Teal and orange, that irritating and overused color combination. But Miller is no Michael Bay, while his film if mostly teal and orange, the colors aren’t, in any way, subtle or trying to achieve subtlety. The orange and the blue are acidic and aggressive, overwhelming in their constant presence. But, despite this being a strongly artificial use of bright colors, the main sources of the color combination are the sand of the desert and the sky above it. The Namibian desert and the contrast between the land and the sky are as important and omnipresent in Fury Road as they are in Terrence Malik’s Badlands, the landscape a protagonist on itself.
In the shot, the war rig is purposefully covered in sand as a way to put out the fires resulting from enemy attacks. We watch as the beastly vehicle is covered in a wave of moving sand, turning into what looks like a monstrous sandstorm that envelops everything in its way, eventually filling the frame with its threatening movement. It’s both aggressive and strangely beautiful.
I knew since the beginning I should probably try to avoid one of the film’s rare, but effective, quiet moments, since what really made the film absolutely unforgettable were its action sequences. And the rhythm of these sequences is what really seems to defy comprehension. Miller creates a film of continuous movement, a western on steroids that moves through the desert in frenetic pace, creating some of the most thrilling cinematic moments in years. What better shot to pick as “the best” if not a shot were one of the film’s grandiose vehicles is momentarily enveloped in sand, turning the image into an almost abstract mixture of colors and landscape, always violently moving forward and completely overwhelming their audience in a most glorious manner?