Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Robert Rodriguez
viewed: 09/15/03 at AMC 1000 Van Ness, SF, CA

I was just reading an article about Robert Rodriguez and was thinking that he seemed like a cool guy; he has this admirable low-budget do-it-yourself mentality that he raises to near-mania. For Once Upon a Time in Mexico he acted as writer, producer, director, cinematographer, editor, score composer, as well as pitching in on special effects and production design. And from what I have read, he does a lot, if not most of it, from studios that he has built in his home.

Considering that he made his breakthrough film El Mariachi (1992) for $7000, Rodriguez has stayed true to his low-budgetary roots. He brings a refreshingly economist approach to all his productions, while stuffing his poppy, action-packed stories with a almost campy sense of fun. His films rarely attempt any level of seriousness, vying instead for humor and explosions, keeping the pace going and not stopping to get bogged down.

I had enjoyed Desperado (1995) when I had caught it in the theater on its initial release, so I was looking forward to this film. I can’t really put my finger on what this film was lacking…but the film was much better when Johnny Depp was onscreen rather than when he wasn’t (and I am not saying this in the tone of a smitten schoolgirl — at least I don’t think I am). Johnny Depp was a lot funnier and more interesting and made the scenes he was in more so, too. I guess it’s just part of what was lacking in the film,…more humor? I don’t know.

The other thing that nagged at me was the weird sort of Mexican nationalism of the film. It wasn’t so much that I took issue with it, but rather that it just seemed to lack grounding. I think that the parting image of Antonio Banderas marching toward the audience, trailing a huge Mexican flag was rather blunt, but I kept wondering…what is he supposed to represent? He is a hired vigilante who rescues the president from a bunch of drug dealers. It’s a plot line out of CHiPS or something…hard to take seriously. And then Johnny Depp’s character with his ambivalent (though largely amoral) representing the U.S. government (though he is so bizarre that one wonders if he is truly backed by them or is simply a rogue agent in the chaos that is this film’s plot.) Maybe there is a serious subtext here after all.

I don’t know.

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