This may end up being my only non-Wes Anderson post of this month, so I decided to write about the most anti-Anderson film that I had at my disposal:
“It’s a grisly, chuckling cartoon made on shots of tequila, Red Bull, and Sergio Leone.” -Wesley Morris, Boston Globe
Like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie, Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a film that overflows with fascinating stylistic choices: Guitars turn into weapons as they propel bullets and spit flames. The action scenes are so ridiculous that they’re tremendously fun to watch. The camera sweeps around characters in ways that I’ve never seen before. I often avoid watching action films because I find it easy to be bored by them. The action, which is supposed to be exciting, is usually presented in the exact same style and format as every other film in the genre. However, the greatest achievement of Rodriguez’s flick is that it refuses to be boring. The shoot-’em up scenes, particularly the ones centered around El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas), are over-the-top action gold.
This is probably the most memorable performance that I’ve ever seen from Banderas. Thanks to him, El Mariachi is a captivating character when on-screen. Composed, vengeful, and ruthlessly violent, he makes for a great anti-hero here. The movie’s other main character, a CIA agent named Sands, is played by Johnny Depp. Sands, while being a vital part of the plot, provides much of the comedic relief and Depp’s performance is one of the highlights in a cast that delivers all the way across the board.
This film is often grouped with two of Rodriguez’s other films, El Mariachi and Desperado. While I haven’t seen many of Rodriguez’s works or any of the other members of the so-called ‘El Mariachi Trilogy,’ I found Mexico to be accessible enough. Likewise, flashbacks from the previous films were used to make the story clear and easy to understand. Without any previous experience with these characters, I was able to enjoy the film. Unlike most final trilogy installments, this movie would work independent of the series that it belongs to.
Though not flawless, I did not discover enough problems in the film to be distracted. Nothing spectacular happened emotionally with the movie, but that wasn’t its intent. This is a very entertaining film and an excellent combination of the westerns of Leone and the highly-stylized combat of Asian martial arts films. With such obvious homages here, it almost feels Tarantino-like. I would recommend Once Upon a Time in Mexico to most people who enjoy those films which it pays homage to, but know that this isn’t a movie for everyone. As a violent, over-the-top action flick, it is completely successful.