Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003): Shooting for a Bigger Point

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

     “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” would make a great min-series. As a film it doesn’t quite work as there are a ton of characters and revenge stories going on and right around the middle it gets really muddled and overindulgent but picks up a lot again at the end while finally having El Mariachi change! As the ending to the Mexico Trilogy, it wasn’t the best…that still belongs to “Desparado” but it was better than “El Mariachi” both in soundtrack and cinematography.

     The film was directed by Robert Rodriguez who also wrote, produced and composed the music for. With the other producers being Elizabeth Avellan and Carlos Gallardo.

     The story picks up where “Desparado” left off with El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and Carolina living their life with their daughter after they defeat the corrupt General Marquez. The general survives and gets revenge on El Mariachi killing his wife and daughter leading El Mariachi to seek revenge.  Around the same time Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) commissions him to kill the Drug Lord Armando Barillo (Willem Dafoe) leading to a final face off as all the factions come together as both Barillo and Marquez want to overthrow Mexico’s President.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stark and like a dream sequence making the violence beautiful in how it is presented. It’s not as beautiful as “Desperado” but it still has some very beautiful scenes and color combinations.

The Soundtrack – Soundtrack is the best it has been so far and has a reflective somber tone intermixed with high action beats to reflect the scenes going on.

Armando Barillo – Dafoe does a great job as this drug lord who the CIA is trying to take down. He is emphatic at first and later we see how smart he is when he fakes his own death and even survives past Marquez. It is only a Mexican agent who kills him in revenge after Sands gives him the prompting and opportunity. The agent wasn’t memorable at all though, versus Dafoe.

Ajedrez Barillo – Eva Mendes is wonderful as the daugther of Barillo. She is the one who captures Sands and has them drill out his eyes. She’s cruel and smart and only has a moment of stupidity when she goes to check on Sands body and Sands shoots her in revenge.

Jeffrey Sands – This is one of Depp’s more memorable characters. He is a smooth operator and speaks very calm. I enjoyed his performance as he was a character who was odd and driven and all about the job. He doesn’t let losing his eyes end his mission either and we see that even with loss he can fight and joke making him one of the better action heroes out there. He’s also crazy like most of the characters in this film.

El Mariachi – El Mariachi’s arc goes from taking out small time drug lords in the prior films to taking out Generals in this one. It is here he finds purpose beyond revenge as he gives his money to the people and with his new Band where they take on a Nationalist identity of fighting for Mexico as they protect the President from Marquez and Barillo. He gets Carolina’s locket back and we see him singing for her and fighting for his country. It’s a powerful story.

The Ending – The message is that a person can make their home better. In the first 2 films El Mariachi couldn’t see beyond revenge and himself but later he is fighting for the populace and in this the populace rises up with him against the corrupt General as now El Mariachi has become a folk hero. He embraces this role and it is in that his love for his country and the people keep him going as he is no longer driven by revenge and wishing to die.

Okay/Pros: The Action – Rodriguez has always been good at action and this is film is no exception. A con could even be that it had too much action and was really excessive at times much to the detriment of the story. Specially the hospital attack I was really bored on and it wasn’t until the final confrontation during “Day of the Dead” where I was pulled back in.

The Cons: The Writing – The writing is all over the place. I didn’t care about the Mexican agent, Barillo and his daughter needed more fleshing out and El Mariachi is just kind of there, we don’t see much of his life beyond his music and revenge up until the end. There are a lot of good ideas here they just aren’t clear because of how muddled the script is.

The Use of the Fridge – El Mariachi has now lost his girlfriend, Carolina and daughter as the motivator for each film. This is a tired trope and way overdone. I wish he’d had something more and that we could have seen some of the women in his life kick ass like Carolina did in the flashbacks. The fridge is a terrible trope largely because it is overused. Rodriguez didn’t have to do anything but repeat the plot of “Desperado” for El Mariachi’s motivation and that is just sad.

     Minus the fridging of his girlfriend in the first film and Carolina and his daughter in this one, as well as the muddled script, this was a good film I’d recommend. It is more polished and interesting than “El Mariachi” which felt like a film made by a director just starting to direct but wasn’t as tight and polished as “Desperado” which never felt excessive in any major ways. This one did have a better message though as the vigilante finally looked beyond himself and to the people he should have been protecting all along. That is what made this film really good besides the very colorful characters.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Also, here are the reviews for “El Mariachi”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/el-mariachi-1992-a-good-but-rocky-start-to-the-mexico-trilogy/

and “Desperado”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/desperado/

As we complete the Mexico Trilogy.

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