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  • 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, long time.

    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 mess.

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