Robert Rodriguez doesn’t make his audience wait for action. After frequently working with such directors as Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez has learned that to capture an audience, one must provide excitement from the first minute.
In his latest release, that’s exactly the philosophy to which Rodriguez adheres.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the third installment of the El Mariachi series, which also includes 1995’s Desperado. The opening sequence is full of guns, shooting and, oddly, humor. The rest of the film follows from there.
The film stars Rodriguez regulars Antonio Banderas (as the infamous mariachi called simply El), Salma Hayek (as El’s love, Carolina), Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin. This time, Rodriguez also brings in other big names. Johnny Depp is one of the main characters, and Willem Dafoe stars as one of the primary black characters. Eva Mendez and Mickey Rourke complete the cast.
Even Spanish pop star Enrique Iglesias and Panamanian pop star Ruben Blades manage to snatch two of the supporting roles.
The story of Once Upon a Time In Mexico is complicated. There is a drug lord who tries to assassinate the Mexican president (Dafoe). There is a general who is supposed to carry out the task. El Mariachi (Banderas) who is hired to take out the general also has personal reasons for the feat. There is also a corrupt CIA (Depp) agent. Oh, and a retired FBI agent hired to make sure the drug lord dies (Blades).
The thick plot may be the film’s only downfall. It’s so complex and intertwined that the audience may spend a significant portion of the viewing time figuring out what’s going on instead of partaking in the excitement of the movie.
But that is probably everything negative that can be said about Mexico. All else is not only pure entertainment, but also art. The camera angles and cinematography are amazing.
Rodriguez knows exactly what he is doing when he picks the shots — every one is necessary to convey the full feeling of the scene. Vibrant colors saturate the screen and accentuate the mood of the film. The score, written in part by Rodriguez, gives authenticity to what he proclaims in the credits to be a flick, but is far more than that.
To his advantage, Rodriguez has the rare talent of writing witty scripts. He puts high emphasis on the entertainment value of his films, and this entertainment revolves around more than just very thorough and thrilling combat scenes. He adds humor to all his characters by giving them lines that viewers may not expect.
Even his most serious characters are never overshadowed by the gravity of their personas. There is always the slightest bit of humor in each part, even when it’s as small as differentiating moustaches in every scene.
Mexico, like many other Rodriguez movies, is almost a one-man production. The man wrote, directed, scored and edited the movie. In a time when movie studios spend hundreds of millions of production dollars, Rodriguez keeps his films on the lower end of the monetary spectrum.
But the small budget gets a better end result than some movies that spend twice as much on production and marketing.
Whether the Mariachi series will end with Mexico or not, the film is worth whatever movie theaters will charge for admission. Its entertainment value goes beyond that of an action flick and into that of an artistically excecuted film.