Once Upon a Time in Mexico

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:R for Violence (Lots of It), and Language
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez

Final Grade:

If you’re a Mexican and are referred to only as “El”, you’re probably pretty good at whatever you do. That’s the case for Antonio Banderas, who’s back as El Mariachi in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, and Eva Mendes join him for the ride, along with the returning Salma Hayek, for what is definitely a Robert Rodriguez flick.

We know it’s Rodriguez’s flick because the opening credits say “A Robert Rodriguez Flick”. They also say that the film was “Shot, Cut, and Scored” by Rodriguez, and that it was “Written and Directed” by Rodriguez. There’s not an aspect of the film that doesn’t bear the stamp of the “Rebel without a Crew”.

The action picks up with a CIA agent named Sands, who’s definitely a bad man. He’s involved in a complicated scheme that involves the overthrow of the Mexican government, the prevention of its overthrower taking the presidency, and the restoration of a balance in power. This requires him to enlist the services of our legendary hero to kill the general leading the coup-de-tat, who El Mariachi definitely has a score to settle with. Also involved in the plot is a druglord (Dafoe) who wants the presidency and a retired FBI agent who has a score to settle with him.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico earns the “flick” designation, and anyone who longs for something that will stimulate their mind and interest their intellect is in the wrong theater. From the paragraph above you probably think it’s a very complicated plot, and it is. It’s nearly incomprehensible, which is a bit of a defect. But the plot’s not what we’re here for!

What struck me as most enjoyable about Once Upon a Time in Mexico was the photography. Glorious settings are used in every scene, and there are innumerable shots that look perfectly realized. These settings provide perfect for each of the film’s outburst of carnage, or shoot-outs as most call them. The action is high-paced and unforgivingly violent, with blood splattering into our faces at many moments. The violence is probably the goriest we’ve seen from an action movie this year, with the end result being a film that surely has “grande cojones”.

Granted, Once Upon a Time in Mexico is far from perfect. As mentioned before, the plot requires a keen ear and a strong suspension of disbelief to understand. I also felt that the film tried to hard to be “fun” at all moments, and that a few more subtle moments were needed. It reminded me of the student film project that we all once planned. You remember it, it’s the one that was so perfectly funny or cool in each scene to you, but would offer little to outsiders that weren’t familiar with all the nuances of each scene. I’m sure the film inspires a lot of pride and looks beautiful to all involved in these moments. But the casual filmgoer will simply not understand why over-the-top antics like these are necessary.

In the end, the film is an acquired taste. As a fan of Desperado I was enamored by its tricks and did find a lot to enjoy. Robert Rodriguez put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this film, and deserves a great deal of praise for bringing his vision to the big-screen with such panache. With two big assists from Banderas and Depp, he brings us a film that’s nothing short of pure entertainment. Then again, it’s nothing more either.

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