Once Upon a Time in Mexico
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Antonio Banderas Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
This third chapter in Rodriguez's Mariachi trilogy is perhaps his best film yet--a lively, outrageously enjoyable action comedy with serious subtext. It picks up the tale of El Mariachi (Banderas), "El" for short, years after he's presumed dead. Rogue CIA Agent Sands (Depp) tracks him down and offers him a job as part of an elaborate scheme to undermine a coup attempt by a notorious crime kingpin (Dafoe). So El teams up with his fellow mariachis (Iglesias and Leonardi), while Sands sets in motion a series of chaotic counter-strikes involving a local cop (Mendes), a retired FBI agent (Blades) and a fugitive American (Rourke).

For the second time this year, Depp steals a film with a perfectly balanced performance--goofy and thoughtful at the same time, impeccably delivering hilarious dialog and perfectly timing each encounter. He's the real centre of this story, and he carries it beautifully right to the startling finale. Meanwhile, Banderas is terrific in a role that has become a cultural icon; Hayek is only seen in extensive flashbacks, but manages to infuse the film with a spicy energy; and the rest of the cast create equally memorable characters (including, surprisingly, Iglesias). Everyone has a distinct motive--revenge, honour, money, power, escape, love--driving them through the carnage and destruction to a shrewdly idealised conclusion.

This is billed as "A Robert Rodriguez Flick", and indeed he does virtually everything; the credits say he wrote, directed, "shot, chopped and scored" it! This singular vision shows in the strength of the film's various storylines and thematic threads. And it works on three levels that merge strangely but sure-handedly: as a zany comic farce, as a violent action movie and as a political examination of American intervention in Latin America. Yes, really! It's full of running gags, elaborate interrelationships and over-the-top yet always coherent action mayhem. Rodriguez handles all of this with a freewheeling style that's sometimes completely unhinged, chaotic and hard to follow. But it's always mind-bogglingly entertaining, keeping its focus on the characters and their motivations, and never losing track of the overall narrative. His music is gorgeous and emotive. His editing is pointed and inventive. And his cinematography is drenched in sunshine, echoing Sergio Leone's classic imagery amid striking Mexican locations. And when in the end it becomes an almost wistful fable about the salvation of Mexico as a country, he's got us right where he wants us. Brilliant.

cert 15 themes, strong violence and gore, language 28.Aug.03

dir-scr Robert Rodriguez
with Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Enrique Iglesias, Marco Leonardi, Eva Mendes, Ruben Blades, Mickey Rourke, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Gerardo Vigil
release US 12.Sep.03; UK 26.Sep.03
03/Mexico 1h42

The three amigos: Iglesias, Banderas and Leonardi

banderas depp hayek
dafoe mendes rourke

once upon a time in mexico

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... LP, Salisbury: "For stunning the audience with brilliant scenery, ideas and casting, this movie was incredible. As for assisting the audience in keeping track of the plot, that's another story. I was lost with all the backstabbing and doublecrossing, and although I understood the general gist of the movie it was a lot to comprehend. I felt that as the main character, El Mariachi should have had a much bigger role. There were so many characters with juicy roles that it cut down on Antonio Banderas' screen time, thus removing the focus of the movie. Johnny Depp was also outstanding, although a few of his scenes seemed unnecessary and confusing (why shoot the cook?). In all, the twists and turns both helped and hurt, as some made it unpredictable and others only confusing. The casting was great and the script above average. I would give this 7 of 10 stars. Or guitar cases." 14.Sep.03

once upon a time in mexico Laurie T, Minneapolis: "Okay, we did not see Desperado, which maybe made a difference, but this one looked good. That being said, there is a lot of action and conspiring - but honestly, I got lost in all the conspiring. I got the basic idea that the guitar guy wanted to get the general who killed his wife and child, and the retired CIA guy wanted to get the cartel guy who tortured and murdered his partner ... and everyone was trying to overthrow the President? Johnny Depp was good in his part - not sure what that was either - I figure I need to see the first one, and maybe I can follow this one. But if you want to watch a lot of people get shot and blown up, it is a good movie. I just wish I knew what was going on. Can someone explain it to me?" 20.Sep.03

2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall