R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Mel Gibson
scr Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia
with Rudy Youngblood, Raoul Trujillo, Rodolfo Palacios, Jonathan Brewer, Dalia Hernandez, Carlos Emilio Baez, Morris Birdyellowhead, Gerardo Taracena, Ricardo Diaz Mendoza, Ramirez Amilcar, Fernando Hernandez, Maria Isidra Hoil
release US 8.Dec.06, UK 5.Jan.07
06/US Icon 2h18

Rural idyll, urban decay: Youngblood and Birdyellowhead (above); High Priest Fernando Hernandez (below)

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Apocalypto With a plot that could be set almost anywhere, Gibson recreates the ancient Mayan civilisation on screen for this deeply entertaining action thriller.

Jaguar Paw (Youngblood) lives in a remote jungle village with his pregnant wife (Dalia Hernandez) and young son (Baez), hunting with his father (Birdyellowhead) and friends. But their idyllic life is destroyed when warriors led by Zero Wolf (Trujillo) arrive to murder and plunder. Jaguar Paw manages to hide his wife and child, but is dragged off to the hedonistic city as a human sacrifice to appease the Sun God. When he escapes, he's pursued by Zero Wolf and the vicious Snake Ink (Palacios), who has hated Jaguar Paw from the moment they met.

There's nothing original about the themes (traditional family values versus societal decay) or the plot (kidnap, escape, pursuit), and the characters are painted in simplistic brushstrokes. But as a director Gibson knows how to grab hold of an audience and propel us into the action, giving us just enough meat to chew on and eliciting powerfully compelling performances from his terrific cast. Even if they're unknown actors (and many non-actors) speaking Mayan. Youngblood is especially magnetic; he deserves to be a big star.

These people may be tattooed, pierced and scarred from head to toe, but they love, tease and joke with each other just like we do. So Jaguar Paw's odyssey is hugely engaging. Under this is a central cultural conflict involving all-consuming, infectious fear, leading to the, yes, apocalyptic collapse of civilisation. Besides this obvious reference to the modern world, there's an environmental message in a fireside folktale about the one flaw in man: the need to keep taking and taking until the world has nothing to give.

But this is essentially an action movie, and Gibson directs it without any distractions--lively, brisk and hugely exciting. The production design is simply jaw-dropping, as is the excessive gore. While the breathless pursuit through the jungle is a series of marvellous set pieces involving a jaguar, waterfalls, quicksand, bees and even a hallucinogenic frog. And by taking us somewhere we'll never go, Gibson again proves that he's one of the most audacious filmmakers out there.

cert 18 themes, violence, strong grisliness, brief language 7.Dec.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Apocalypto nuttyvik, uk: 5/5 "thought this film was awesome, beautifully filmed and even though most were not actors they did so well you could not tell." (5.Jul.07)
2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall