Eye For Film >> Movies >> Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003) Film Review
Once Upon A Time In Mexico
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
Sergio Leone took the Western into realms of make believe that enhanced the myth of The Stranger With No Name performing acts of an avenging angel against the forces of oppression. Robert Rodriguez goes further. His vision of a mysterious gunfighter, intent upon retribution, is pure comicbook fantasy.
It started with El Mariachi in 1992, which was made for so little money that pyrotechnics were kept to a minimum. This was followed three years later by the studio-backed, star studded extravaganza, Desperado, which gave Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek an excuse to look sexy while shooting hordes of bad guys and simulating breathtaking acrobatic stunts.
Once Upon A Time In Mexico continues in the same vein, except this time the killing is more random and the storyline off the rails. Rodriguez appears hooked on the idea of violence as a sexual aid. It's only Banderas's sense of humour that stops him from taking the role of Mexico's Robin Hood seriously. Hayek appears as a loving mother, or feisty knife thrower, in flashbacks and dream sequences.
Banderas's character has become the stuff of legend. Is he alive? Does he still mourn his wife and daughter? Does he live on the roof of the town hall and only come out at sunset to play his guitar? Who washes his socks? Who pays for the ammunition?
The central figure in the film is a CIA operative, played in his usual enigmatic fashion by the mercurial figure of Johnny Depp. As well as murdering every chef who cooks a perfect meal, his actions are mentally deranged. He's on a mission to destabilise the country, knock off a drug baron (Willem Dafoe) and cause grievous bodily harm to the reputation of US foreign policy by behaving with the utmost arrogance.
Through the dust of battle strides a man in black leather, guns ablazing, spurs aclanking, to protect the villagers from the drug cartel's thugs, save El Presidente from a coup d'etat and wreak vengeance upon the army general who decimated his family. Blood, literally, flows like wine.
Rodrigues's trilogy is a visual feast of posturing machismo, during which all sense and sensibility is discarded in favour of slow-motion stunts and death from a thousand angles. Without guns, the film would be a short story.
Dafoe must be doing a favour for a friend. Hayek is hardly there. Banderas cherishes the joke for as long as it lasts. Depp attempts to be cool in a hot climate and suffers as a result. The final scene of decimation, with bodies lying amongst the debris of a street in ruins, is the perfect image of stylised violence that remains true to the memory and spirit of Leone.Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2003