A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

May 7, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

The third Mariachi movie is the most epic in scale. As is implied by the title, which comes from the most epic and grand of the Sergio Leone westerns. It’s also by far the most complex of the three movies with the most characters and plots to keep track of. There’s the amoral corrupt CIA agent, his muscle and his stoolie, the beleaguered president, the army general attempting a coup, the drug cartel head funding the revolution, his disillusioned right hand man, the retired FBI officer, the hot Mexican police woman… and of course the Mariachi, who has achieved legendary status and is known only as El.

This movie starts out very much like Desperado starts out – with a character narrating the legend of El. This time it’s Cheech Maron as Belini, a low life informant being paid by the nefarious CIA agent Sands to find the ultimate hit man. Sands has this whole plot that he’s trying to set into motion. He wants to replace the president of Mexico (because the president is doing too good a job of unifying the people) so he has arranged for the Barillo drug cartel to fund a coup by general Marquez. Sands doesn’t want Marquez in power either though – which is why he needs El. There’s some kind of bad blood between El and Marquez – something to do with Carolina (who sadly doesn’t have much of a part in this movie.)

The Mariachi, meanwhile, is living in self imposed exile in a little village that has an economy based on manufacturing guitars. That’s until Sands has his goon Cucuy (the ever fantastic Danny Trejo again) hunt El down and force him out of retirement. The funny thing is that this movie isn’t so much about the Mariachi. He’s an unstoppable force of nature in this film – an unpredictable killing machine that Sands is trying to use for his own ends. But the movie it, at least from my perspective, about Sands.

This is at least partially because Sands is played by Johnny Depp with scene stealing pizazz. His casual profanity, complete sense of superiority, awful fashion sense and utter lack of a moral compass makes him such a compelling and fascinating character. And Johnny Depp makes it impossible to look away from the screen when he’s on. It’s his machinations that drive the plot and things really start to get interesting when things don’t work out as he expected.

Not to belittle the other vast talents exhibited in this film. Look at the sheer star power Rodriguez has gathered for this grand send-off to the Mariachi: Willem Dafoe, Eva Mendez, Ruben Blades (the most sympathetic character int eh film as the retired FBI agent who can’t help getting dragged back into the game. Nevermind that I can’t figure out what jurisdiction the FBI would have in Mexico), Mickey Rourke… it goes on and on.

From the powerful iconography of the Mexican populist uprising depicted that stops the military coup to the overwhelming action scenes to the melodrama of El’s rivalry with General Marquez, this entire movie is bigger, and more mythical than either of its predecessors. It has the feeling of being a modern folk tale – which is appropriate given its title. A fitting finale to the Mariachi trilogy. Even if it does make me somewhat long for a Sands trilogy to go after it.

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

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