A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 433 – Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Once Upon a Time in Mexico – May 7th, 2011

So we come to the end of our Mexico trilogy. Or rather, Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico trilogy. This is the third and final movie of the set and definitely the biggest of them. It’s not quite the same degree of difference from the second movie as the second move was from the first, but it’s certainly a few steps up in terms of the stakes and the action. Everything’s bigger in this one, which I have some issues with. But I also greatly enjoy the movie anyhow. It has some great characters and some fantastic action. I’m just not sure it fits as seamlessly with the other two as they do with each other.

Part of the problem here is just how big it’s all gotten. The plot in this movie isn’t about local problems on a city or town scale. It’s about local problems only if you define local by country. Because what’s at stake here, and at the heart of the schemes and double crossings, is the position of President of Mexico. There’s a general involved, and the CIA and the FBI and their Mexican counterparts and a US fugitive and a crime lord and a hit man, or rather hit men, and generally the scale is just so very much larger than the others. Sure, El Mariachi’s involvement hinges on a personal connection and drive for revenge (of course), but that’s not really the focus of the film, regardless of all the flashbacks we get.

There’s just too much politicking and bribing and scheming on the parts of everyone else for the flashbacks to make as much impact as they might have in a tighter movie. El is hired to help with a coup. Certain people would like the current president overthrown, but those people also don’t want the general who’s going to overthrow him to actually gain power. It just so happens that the general in question murdered Carolina and her and El’s daughter, so he’s not going to pass up the opportunity to take the man out. The thing is, in either of the other movies that would be the plot. It would all be about El arriving in the city and sizing up the opposition and making his moves against the general’s men and eventually killing him, possibly while meeting another woman in the process. But since that road had been trod twice already Rodriguez decided to toss in a whole additional plot with the man who hired El in the first place. Agent Sands is a corrupt and sociopathic CIA agent stationed in Mexico and the secondary plot here deals with his wheeling and dealing with a crime lord and his cartel and agents. Some of it involves El as well, but a lot of it doesn’t. A lot of it is Sands on his own. It splits the movie, in my opinion.

Now, this is not to say that this isn’t a good movie. It’s a great movie! But for me it doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Desperado as much as I’d like. It doesn’t feel as intimate. Yes, there’s a bar brawl scene in the beginning. It’s the scene of a story being told about El Mariachi and his deeds and how now he’s got this woman with him and she’s just as deadly. But the story is being told to Sands, who is one bad ass dude, and even the bar the brawl is in feels bigger and more expanded than the bars in the previous movies. And after Sands’ contact leaves the restaurant they’ve been taking in and we see that Sands had a hidden gun on him the whole time we know that Sands is going to be a focal point. And he’s played by Johnny Depp, who gives this bizarre agent of chaos a comedic spin while keeping him utterly terrifying in his badassitude.

So here’s my problem. I love Johnny Depp as Sands. I love how he is emphatically not a good guy. I love how he’s very much an instigator in this whole mess and how he pretty much sees that as his purpose in life. He lives in Mexico and fucks with people by setting up schemes and plots and putting them in motion to maneuver local politics and crime and he enjoys it. He says to El that his purpose is to maintain balance in Mexico, but it’s a balance that he defines. He is a strange sort of figure here. And yet you want to see him make it out of this alive. Or I do, anyhow. He’s morally reprehensible and devoid of empathy and yet he’s somehow not evil. Not in comparison to the general who killed El’s wife and daughter. Not in comparison to the crime boss, Barillo. And to be honest, he kind of steals the movie and I find myself not caring because he’s just plain fun to watch. Horrifying, but fun.

But where does that leave El and his storyline? Sort of shoved to the side. We get plenty of flashbacks, as I said, showing the general killing Carolina. We get El going to recruit two of his mariachi friends to help him with the job Sands has hired him for. We get fight scenes with El and Carolina in the past and we get more fight scenes with El in the present. We see him with Sands, we see him on his own. But thanks to there being so much that’s not related to him, his personal background and mission feel less immediate, which is a pity because that’s where the soul of the first two movies is. As much fun as this movie can be, its soul just isn’t as apparent. Probably because, as I said, Sands is much of the focus and Sands is pretty soulless.

To be honest, the whole thing with Barillo and his body double and whatnot feels like its own plot. In any other movie it would be great! But it’s so different from the tone of the other movies. I’m used to the emotional impact of the movie coming from El’s connection to the major villain and it just isn’t there. There are a couple of key characters, such as Barillo’s man, Billy, AFN agent Ajedrez and former FBI agent Ramirez, who never meet El. They’re involved in the whole coup plot, but they’re connected to Sands, not the mariachis.

Thank goodness for the mariachis, though, because they really are awesome. I can’t even knock the guitar case weaponry for being an old trick because it’s so much fun to watch. I do enjoy the scenes where they talk to El and he tells them what they’ll be doing. I love seeing them case the building they’ll be working in later, actually playing music. I love that they save the day at the end. I just wish they and El had gotten more to do. I wish Carolina had been in more of the movie. I wish the Sands plot had been its own picture, because I don’t dislike it. I like it a lot. But it distracts me from why I love the first two movies. It makes me love this one for an entirely different reason and I’m so very conflicted about that. It’s frustrating. I like this movie a lot, but in many ways I wish it was two movies. I’d love them both, I promise.

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May 7, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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