Once Upon a Time in Mexico Review

by Bob Bloom (bobbloom AT iquest DOT net)
September 13th, 2003

ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003) Starring Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Mickey Roarke, Eva Mendes, Enrique Iglesias, Marco Leonardi, Cheech Marin, Ruben Blades, Willem Dafoe and Danny Trejo. Shot, Chopped and Scored by Robert Rodriguez. Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Rated R. Running time: Approx. 110 mins.

The key to Once Upon a Time in Mexico rests in the credit for Robert Rodriguez. It says the film was "shot, chopped and scored by ..."
The key words are shot and chopped because Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the final film in Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" trilogy, is a violent riff in which thousands of bullets are expended and people have their eyes cut out.

Yet the violence is so over-the-top, so unrealistic that you can't be offended by the extreme to which it is carried by Rodriguez.

Rodriguez has created a very stylized film, one in the tradition of the Sergio Leone epics such as Once Upon a Time in the West.

The plot is confusing, overflowing with double dealings, triple crosses and altering alliances.

Antonio Banderas reprises his role from Desperado as the guitar-slinging El Mariachi, whose case carries not just his six-string, but various instruments of death.

In this feature, El Mariachi is recruited by a rogue CIA agent (Johnny Depp) to thwart an assassination attempt on the president of Mexico. Throw into the mix, a brutal drug cartel, a corrupt military officer who has crossed paths with El Mariachi with deadly results and various other factions both good and bad and you have the makings of a blood-soaked saga.

Rodriguez has created a very stylized feature, one in which the framing and attitude take precedence over the acting.

Banderas has very little dialogue, he barely utters more than a sentence in any one scene.

Salma Hayek, who receives second billing, is seen only in flashbacks.
Depp steals the movie with another of his eccentric performances as Sands, the CIA agent who thinks he's the master web spinner, but who is blind sided by one he thought he could trust.

The cast also features an interesting turn from Mickey Rourke as well as Ruben Blades as a retired FBI agent out to settle a score. Willem Dafoe seems wasted as the drug lord. He is given little to do except sneer.

Some may find the violence in Once Upon a Time ... offensive, but the movie is the modern-day equivalent of a Grimm's fairy tale, not meant to be taken seriously.

An impressive musical score by Rodriguez recalls the works of Ennio Morricone, especially he collaborations with Leone.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico will not please everyone's cinematic palate. But those who enjoy excessive moviemaking should feel they received their money's worth.

Bob Bloom is the film critic at the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, IN. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or at [email protected] Other reviews by Bloom can be found at www.jconline.com by clicking on movies.
Bloom's reviews also appear on the Web at the Rottentomatoes Web site, www.rottentomatoes.com and at the Internet Movie Database:

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