Upon a Time in Mexico”
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay by Robert Rodriguez
Produced by Robert Rodriguez, Carlos Gallardo, Elizabeth
Starring Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Ruben Blades, Salma
Hayek, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Enrique Iglesias, Cheech Marin,
Upon a Time in Mexico” is such a popcorn flick that you don’t
even need to buy any popcorn.
Think of Robert Rodriguez action films as Michael Bay pictures for
the more elitist cinephile and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”
less a cinematic revolution than an enjoyable exercise in the art
of renegade filmmaking.
Welcomed on the independent scene the same year as Indie legend
Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez debuted “El Mariachi” while
Tarantino did “Reservoir Dogs.” He was one of a handful
of filmmakers to hand the camera back to the film geek in the early
1990s. His subsequent work has been both moody and violent, gothic
The quick edits, the bloody, grainy violence, the basic, cliché,
genre-oriented plot line—Rodriguez’s latest movie is
definitely his own. Within the first few bars of a mandolin’s
song in the opening title sequence, it is difficult to mistake the
movie for anyone else’s.
If viewers are not intimately familiar with Rodrguez’s other
work, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” might be a little
hard to swallow, especially because the movie is undeniably weird—not
just your typical shoot-em-up. I highly advise concerned viewers
to re-watch “El Mariachi” and “Desperado”
prior to viewing this film.
The opening sequence is more an homage to Rodriguez’s previous
flicks than a vehicle of any new invention. Antonio Banderas is
very much the “Desperado” (the trilogy’s second
film) of old and his surreal, guitar-gun sequence—for which
Rodriguez has become famous—is reminiscent of the dream-door
sequence in the original “El Mariachi.”
That likeness is not, probably, a coincidence.
has been very open about the fact that this is the idealized continuance
of his conceptual masterpiece of ultra-modern violence. The film
ought to be, for Rodriguez, an over-funded and seriously-backed
version of “Desperado,” which was, in itself, an over-funded
and seriously-backed “El Mariachi,” which was…the
point is, it has the money it needs to be perfect.
Rodriguez has proven that he has the ability to make budget-oriented,
stylish, fast-paced movies short on plot but big on pretty explosions.
Rodriguez never makes any apologies for his nonconformist school
of filming, wherein he essentially forgoes tradition for style.
The enthusiasm he maintained in the beginning of his career is somewhat
apparent in this latest film—astute audience members can almost
see the director grinning behind his camera during the action shots—just
on a larger, more corporately accessible scale.
Tragically, the movie has everything it needs, such as the actors,
money and style necessary for it to be great. However, it ultimately
falters as a whole. Rodriguez is trying to be in the same frame
of mind as he was when he invented his mariachi style of camerawork,
but there is too much to deal with for the minimalist, musically
inclined style to work.
entire picture was shot in a relatively short amount of time and
each scene was done in few takes. This whirlwind schedule seems
to have thrown Depp, who is traditionally a method actor. His performance
is not as peculiar as it could have been, given that the hectic
environment disturbed his notoriously temperamental acting groove.
Regardless of its pitfalls, though, the movie is fun.
Really, the plot is not about much, other than character revenge
set to a
revolution/love/misbegotten-rage backdrop, and a plot summary is
thus wasted space.
The movie is not about the plot.
Rodriguez does push some boundaries both visually (namely, the Depp-car
scene and the numerous hand-held digital shots) and graphically
(one word: kneecaps) and the time spent in the theater is not wasted.
Rodriguez proves he is still fresh with his latest adaptation of
his tired brainchild. Movie patrons heard outside the theater remarked,
“Well, it’s Rodriguez…” And it is—for
better or for worse.