ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  robert rodriguez

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  action

LENGTH  -  98 minutes

RELEASED  -  12 september 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  sony pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  once upon a time

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $30,000,000
once upon a time in mexico - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from once upon a time in mexico at

buy the dvd from once upon a time in mexico at

hitman "el mariachi" becomes involved in international espionage involving a psychotic cia agent and a corrupt mexican general.

when this screenplay first emerged in 1993, jim carrey was attached.


picture from once upon a time in mexico

picture from once upon a time in mexico

picture from once upon a time in mexico


three out of four possible stars

If one were to ignore the rather large amount of main characters littered about One Upon A Time In Mexico, it would be easy to see that this film is much more a parody of classic gunslinger films with some political comments thrown in here and there for added emphasis. While it is difficult to see the reason for so many characters, each actor certainly lights up the screen with his own brand of insanity (Johnny Depp in particular - but isn't he always insane?). There is never a dearth of characters or story with which to occupy one's time.

Whether Depp's nearly militant CIA agent, "Sands," wore a t-shirt that said, "CIA," on it or Antonio Banderas's "El Mariachi" was affectionately referred to as "El" (translated, that means "The" in English), there are just as many laughs in this film as there are bullets sprayed in Churches (how classic) and guitars used as weapons (you don't see that every day). If not for the large amount of humor in the film, the movie might have resembled more The Road To Perdition, which was a film entirely without humor and somewhat lacking for it. And it might have been foolish anyhow for director Rodriguez to make this film on the straight and narrow. Rural Mexico is just so much more fun with a few laughs thrown in.

Actually, there are more than just a few laughs dotting the landscape. Nearly every single scene contains some sort of well-placed joke that makes one's suspension of disbelief easier to attain. After all, it's not the easiest task in the world to believe the strange goings-on in this film and the humor definitely makes the picture easier to enjoy. And much of the humor doesn't even come from dialogue, but isn't overly physical either. For example, when Banderas and his mariachi friends show up at a place they're to perform (one of his buddies is played by Enrique Iglesias with varying degrees of success), the man who greets them at the door asks, "are you the mariachis???" and Banderas doesn't say a word; the question is to ludicrous to warrant an answer. It's quite an entertaining exchange and Banderas doesn't even have to say a word for it to cause laughter in the audience.

Now, though one should respect Rodriguez for having "shot, chopped, and scored" the film (in the opening credits he declares that he was the cinematographer, editor, and score composer), one cannot help but wonder if the final product might have been more cohesive had he employed a cinematographer. Given that the editor's job could ostensibly be completed by the director after shooting had been completed (the same with scoring the film), putting one's self into the shoes of director and cinematographer seems to have been a dicey decision.

While these guerilla-like tactics might earn praise from independent filmmakers, Mexico was blessed with a thirty million dollar budget and allowing a separate person to choreograph the cinematography might have allowed for more personal interaction with the actors by the director. But since the director and the cinematographer were one in the same, it seems that the performances might not have been given their full attention during the shoot. And since Rodriguez was also the writer and a producer on the film, he might have put too many different hats on his head for this production.

But since that nearly all of the performances were sufficient for the picture, and given the characters weak emotional development (which could have been increased across the board, save Banderas's nearly silent El character), expecting more from the actors might have been asking for too much. The actors and filmmakers of Mexico try to accomplish too much with their film, but they get the formula right most of the time. And since Johnny Depp is just so damn entertaining, trying to expect the same enthusiasm from every single one of the myriad characters (there are so many you'll probably shake your head after the first dozen or so are trotted out) is a difficult task since equal time and development could not have been shared by each character.

With this film existing as more of a comedy and parody of the overly serious action films that come around each summer, just sitting back to enjoy this movie seems to be the right course. With Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo (a welcome Rodriguez regular), Cheech Marin, and Willem Dafoe all adding their individual talents to the film, the viewer is assured at having something, or someone, entertaining to look at. This film is like an over-stuffed burrito. Sometimes it's difficult to eat, but in the end, you're glad for the extra toppings.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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