During the last
quarter of this year, Hollywood will present us with a plethora of horror
films, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Cabin Fever, Cold Creek Manor, to
name only a few. Iím not an
aficionado of horror films. But
they do have their strange morality. They show violence and gore as scary things, things to be
avoided. They show death as
something to fear. They show
killers as bad, bad people. They
inspire a gut-wrenching, emotional response to violence, gore, and death.
Once Upon A
Time In Mexico, however, is a part of a genre that, to me, is Hollywood
at its most immoral. These films show death and gore without any emotional
involvement whatever. People
die and are tortured without fear or loathing.
Torture and death are just as commonplace as drinking a glass of
water. Bad people are just other people, not to be feared.
In fact, the only emotional involvement in any of the thousands of
deaths that we see throughout the 98 minutes of this film, is El
Mariachiís (Antonio Banderas) grieving for the death of his wife, Carolina
(Selma Hayek), which occurred shortly after the last film, Desperado, ended
eight years ago!
If you look at the
cast, you think youíre in for a treat; in addition to Banderas and Hayek,
Cheech Marin, Mickey Rourke, Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Pedro Armendariz,
accomplished actors all. How
could it miss? Let me count the ways.
First, Banderas, a
talented man, has a role that defines one-dimensional.
This part doesnít require acting, only an impassive body.
Second, Hayek is little more than a cameo, appearing only in flashbacks.
Third, Dafoe and Rourke arenít in it much more than Hayek.
Fourth, the main point of this film is to show as much gore and as
many violent deaths as possible. Do
you want to see a manís eyes gorged out?
Youíll see it here. Do
you want to see a film that averages what seems like ten deaths per minute? Youíll see it here.
But do you want to
see a reasonable story? A good
script? A love interest? Suspense?
Something interesting? Forget
it, you wonít see them here. This
is just an exercise by
writer-producer-director-cinematographer-editor-composer, jack of all
trades, master of none, Robert Rodriguez in pop-film making, an over-the-top
action film with a lot of bullets, lots of people shot on top of tall
things, falling long ways, lots of people getting shot when you donít
expect it. But, letís face
it, how dumb can an audience be? After
the first several, maybe itíll start to expect that maybe somebodyís
going to get shot within the next few seconds whether it looks like it or
contributes another strong performance in a weak film, following up on his
performance in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Marin gives a good performance, as does Rourke, who is hard to
recognize in his new, puffy, Marlon Brando-like body.
that Iím now in the seventh paragraph of this critique and I havenít
mentioned the plot. Well,
thereís a reason. The raison
díetre of this is the humorization and trivialization of violence.
You want a plot? Although itís hard to determine, apparently a drug lord,
Barillo (Dafoe), wants to kill The President (Pedro Armendariz).
El Mariachi for some reason is trying to stop it, I guess, and to
gain revenge against General Marquez (Gerardo Virgil), who killed Carolina
in Desperado, and what Depp, who is apparently a rogue CIA agent,
Sands, is doing is anybodyís guess, but heís in a lot of scenes, thank
God. To call it convoluted
would be to give it too much credit. This thing is so obtuse itís an insult to language to use
words longer than one syllable to criticize it.
I think this is
intended to be a comedy (with thousands of graphic, bloody deaths; yeah,
thatís real funny). There are a few good lines.
The cinematography is pretty good.
The best part of the film is the post-production. The subtitles are
in bright yellow so you can always read them.
Hooray! Finally, in
2003, filmmakers have figured out how to put in readable subtitles!
Up until now they could conquer space, make people fly, rebuild and
sink the Titanic, have John Wayne advertise products that didnít exist
when he was alive, but couldnít figure out how to put in subtitles that
didnít blend in with the backdrop. (Pardon this digression, but in a horrible new film called So
Close, a film far too dreadful for me to critique, the filmmakers
inserted a white strip on the bottom of some of the scenes and then inserted
subtitles in white! Remember
the movie The Invisible Man? So
Close should be called The Invisible Subtitles.
These people had to actually take post-production action to insert
this white strip and then take post-production action to insert white
subtitles. Can you spell
stupid?). But thereís another
issue with the subtitles, which seems to set an inexplicable double
standard. The vulgarity MotherF----
is spoken in English several times. But
when itís spoken in Spanish, itís not translated into a subtitle!
What? Itís OK to speak
it, but itís not OK to write it? What
am I not understanding here?
Films like Once
Upon A Time In Mexico can tend to desensitize viewers to violence and
can result in a more violent society. There are some people who might like this.
Iím not among Ďem.
September 13, 2003