The rules have changed for Hit Me with Your Best Shot! To encourage more participation, Nathaniel has switched up the calendar and made it more of an ongoing fun thing, less of a short-term “do this right now while you have the chance” event, and the film he has used to make that shift is Mad Max: Fury Road, the most beautiful film of 2015 and the most visually exciting action movie in a generation. And I almost missed it. It was actually Monday night that this month’s edition went up, and I blanked. But our host is a gent, and he extended it by 24 hours for all those who wanted play.
The film’s visual strengths are obvious and undeniable: the searing duochromatic tone – nuclear wasteland yellow and implacable azure sky blue – the consistently amazing frames of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa as an anchor to some shots, as an invader in other shots, and as an organic ensemble member in yet other shots; the way that the film visually insists on this as a film about heroism coming as a result of collective action action marked by individual moments of bravery. All of these things would be equally wonderful to talk about; but alas, I did not have time to re-watch the whole movie to pick out my one favorite among many great equals. Also, ever since I first, second, and third saw the film in May, the individual shot that has most emphatically marked itself on my brain does none of those things. In fact, given the sprawling vistas and circus craziness that are the film’s bread and butter, my pick for best shot is almost idiotically off-book:
We’re almost exactly at the one-quarter mark of the film. The big heaving action sequence has just ended – the big heaving action sequence, I say, in a film which is almost nothing but. It’s the car chase that first shows us what Fury Road‘s budget and ambitions are exactly going to consist of, culminating in all those cars so lovingly forced through ludicrously elaborate stunts plunging headlong into an immaculate CGI sandstorm, as the score and sound mix attempt to deafen us while the multitude of moving objects onscreen attempt to scorch our retinas. I have now seen Fury Road four times, and every time, I only realise after all of this is done that I have quite forgotten to breath for a good 80 seconds now.
I realise this, in fact, right about the time that my pick for best shot arrives. A flare, which almost but not quite prematurely ended the film by blowing up Max himself, has gone flying in all the chaos, and landed right in the middle of the storm. And the storm blows by, but for the first time in… well, it seems like it’s the first time all movie that the camera stops to linger on a still object, rather than charging on to follow whatever action is happening. The lights drop, and it cannot be said if it is the overcast sky or night following hard upon the storm, or if it’s simply a fade to black. But the lights drop. And where once there was so much action and movement that it’s impossible to attend to a tenth of it, let alone the whole screen’s worth, there’s just a flickering red light, holding steady as the world around it closes down.
It is the moment that the film says, “you may now relax”.
It is the moment as well where the film reminds us that even in the middle of chaos, noise, screaming metal death, and the most propulsive car chase choreography since God knows when: there are small moments. There are little, restive patches. We haven’t seen one till now – half an hour in, and Fury Road has been all-out guns blazing since its third shot. But now it rests, and for as much pleasure as there is to be had in every inch of those thirty minutes, it is deeply satisfying that we get to rest too. The film has made us, as viewers, earn this pause, and it sets us up to notice and appreciate every pause that follows. Of which there are some, separated by long blasts of high-intensity action (though none as intense as this most daunting of car chases). And they are the moments where Fury Road turns from great action cinema to great cinema, genre notwithstanding: the human touches and moments of connection, the places where we and the characters can stop to think and be aware of themselves and their surroundings, and where we get to know them better. Fury Road is a fast movie, but it really “happens” in the slow patches, and it is here, as the blackness surrounds us and the film goes to sleep, as it were, that it first tells us that we need to be ready for those slow patches. For in the context of ceaseless momentum, it’s the slowdowns that are truly astonishing.