December 17, 2006

Movie Review: Apocalypto

Apocalypto is a movie that has intrigued me from the start. I was curious to see how Gibson would follow up The Passion of the Christ. I thought that last film was an incredibly moving work, painstakingly constructed and inbued with an amazing devotion. Whether you liked that film or not, you have to agree that it was probably an emotionally exhausting experience. How does one follow up something like that? For one, he decided to stay within the realm of dead languages, yet he did step away from the controversial subject matter that drew so much attention two years ago. The resulting film is invigorating, exciting, violent, bloody, and surprisingly accessible.

When I saw the trailers and commercial spots, I would be hard pressed to tell you what the film was about. Whatever it was, it looked to be exciting, and slightly weird. The trailers were all teases, never really telling you what the film was about, yet strangely inviting, willing you o come and investigate for yourself. So, off I went, intrigued by the potential exhiliration to be delivered by Gibson's journey into the past.

From the start, I was hooked. It was not what I expected, but it was told in such a dynamic way that I could not help but be drawn in for the ride. Apocalypto may be set during the dying days of the Mayan empire, but the story is one that is recognizable across cultural barriers, and across film history. The story is standard B movie pulp, but it is delivered with such a driving kinetic energy from a director who understands how to layer it together that the material is raised beyond its roots.

The film opens on a hunt. Jaguar's Paw and his hunting party are in the hot pursuit of a tapir. Following a successful kill, the party is confronted with a group from another village seeking to pass through their land. These people are afraid, of something that we are not privy too. Soon enough, the encounter is left behind and we are invited into the lives of Jaguar's Paw and his friends and loved ones.

Their way of life is about to be disrupted, as the village is attacked and all of the people are killed or enslaved, but not before Jaguar is able to hide his wife and young son. The rest of the film follows Jaguar as he is taken to a nearby Mayan city. A city that is ruled by a ruthless monarch who have turned their attention to the gods to help them through some troubling times. Crops are dying and disease is running rampant, and human sacrifice is thought to be the answer. Warriors are lined up for the offering, but a chance eclipse saves Jaguar Paw's life. This begins the chase as our hero head's hope to his wife and child, just steps ahead of the ruthless Mayan general charged with "getting rid of" the unneeded sacrifices.

The story is a simple one, chronicling the journey of a man ripped away from his family, and his attempts to get away from his captors and return to their side. Wrapped around this simple center is a tale that could be pointed towards the dangers of organized religion or perhaps the way a society that is weakened from within will fall that much easier to outside forces, perhaps it is working as allegory for our current political situations. More likely, I see it as a sort of coming of age story centering on the growth of Jaguar Paw. At the film's outset he is still learning his place in the village, sort of living in the shadow of his father. He is someone who is unsure of his own skills and place among his people. The film takes him on a journey where he discovers the strength that he has inside of him and what he can draw upon from his surroundings. He digs deep down and finds the power necessary to take the control and stand up for what he believes in. It is quite a powerful journey.

Clocking in at nearly two hours and twenty minutes, it moves briskly. It is fast paced and never boring. Mel has crafted an action film that delivers. If you are looking for an historical drama about the Mayan civilization, you would be better served looking elsewhere. Which brings me to the idea of accuracy. I have no idea how much went into the accuracy of the setting, but I would like to think that they made every effort to make it as real as they could.

The acting was amazing. A cast of nobodies with limited dialogue (subtitled no less) were able to convey a wide array of emotion. I can honestly say that I was gripped with Jaguar Paw's journey, he display of determination was inspiring. In addition to that you have to watch the other characters and the subtle expressions they have which so greatly enhance the impact of the film.

Bottomline. This is a huge spectacle of an action film. Sure, you could pick it apart for deeper meaning, but it is wholly unnecessary, as the action is big enough and exciting enough to sustain interest throughout the runtime. It is vividly shot, plenty violent, and surprisingly funny. This is a film to experience on the big screen. B movie action raised by its unique setting.

Highly Recommended.


Post a Comment