Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003): ***½
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
OUATIM is a fascinating film. On the one hand it
has a plot that's one of the most complicated I've seen in recent
years, with several sets of characters with thier own agendas and
loyalties, and tons of double-crosses and betrayals and surprises.
One the other hand that's all completely irrelevant to this film.
This film is not at all about what happens. It's
about how cool it looks when it does happen.
It seems as of late that Rodriguez has almost become
bored with the act of filmmaking. He filmed the entirerty of OUATIM
in two weeks on a digital camera. The film itself rushes headlong
from moment to moment, filling the screen with one deliciously textured
visual after another. Even the "slow" scenes are rushed
into headlong and devoured whole, with whirling cameras and dramatic
lighting. Rodriguez seems always in this film to be more interested
in what's coming next than what's actually happening.
The characters in this film fit in with this whirlwind.
They're painted in broad, melodramatic strokes, with outright quirks
and wonderful bravado. It takes quite a lot of guts for actors to
tackle roles with this much gusto, but almost every one of them
strides across the screen like some kind of god, nut just eating
the scenery but destroying everything in their paths. Especially
good is Johnny Depp as a CIA agent who is trying to maneuver El
Mariachi into doing some dirty work for him. As in Pirates,
Depp here is not content to simply play this character straight.
He plays this CIA agent with a wonderful amount of detachment and
loads of fascinating character quirks. It makes what in almost any
other actor's hands would have been a relatively forgettable character
and makes him a character who will stick in your mind for a long,
I also really loved Ruben Blades's performance
as an FBI man who narrates everything he does. It's one of the more
subtle performances in the film, and as such it tends to stand out.
Blades doesn't chew up the scenery. But when he's on screen he's
so simply magnetic that it's hard to look at anyone else.
There are times when Rodriguez could have slowed
down his editing a tad just to make action scenes a little bit clearer
as to what actually is going on. There is a motorcycle chase scene
in particular that seems as though Rodriguez lost interest in it
early on and just has a ton of crazy crap happen and then it's over
so he can get on with rushing headlong through this film.
This film is not about what happens. It's about
the pure joy of watching celluloid being projected upon a screen.
It never stops to take a breather. It's a mess. But it's a glorious
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