The passion of the predator braveheart blair witch fugitive gladiator who dances with wolves in the temple of doom.
That in essence, is the summarized version of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, written, produced and directed by the man himself (see if you can spot the references above during various points in the movie). Following relative successes with Braveheart and Passion of the Christ, one of the first thing that strikes you is that Apocalypto brought over the violence and gore from those movies, and itself also a period piece, this time set in the Mayan civilization at its decline. It contains two different views, of the peaceful fun loving nature of simple villagers, versus the decadence of a race of people drunk on mindless religious fervour culminating in needless sacrifices, pitting one lifestyle against the other, turning a race against their own.
For those who might not enjoy the movie, my guess is they were expecting Mayan Culture 101. Sorry, wrong movie folks, even though the trailer might have suggested some deep profound thoughts and focus on a civilization now long gone. This is a movie about family and survival. Pure and simple. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is the William Wallace of the story, a man who finds himself against odds, struggling to survive in order to get back to the family he had to abandon, during the protection of the honour of his village against the Holcane Warriors, as we see how his life journeyed and paralleled that of an animal hunt featured in the very first scene.
While the movie takes its time to establish characters, and despite the audience only getting glimpses of their names in the subtitles, somehow you'll still be able to identify and identify with them, maybe because the key cast are memorable. As soon as the action starts, it doesn't take its foot off the pedal, moving along at fanatical pace, and most times leaving you at the edge of your seat, despite being able to predict the outcome and certain details how it would have played out. It's all in the execution, and familiarity aside, they delivered.
But it's not all just mindless action. Action with a powerful motif behind the violence, blood and gore, somewhat makes you root for Jaguar Paw as he claws his way out of the doldrums. One thing's for sure, never piss off a family man, as even the Heavens smile and provide much needed luck. The movie is also sprinkled with themes about fear, and the power that it wields, and a subtle environmental message, which I thought mirrored Frank Herbert's Dune.
James Horner's score added much mood to a movie which had little dialogue when the going gets rough, and relied on subtitles to translate the Mayan language on screen. But it goes to show that a movie doesn't require powerful dialogues in order to engage, so long as the score is able to evoke the right mood at the right moments, which Horner does wonderfully. The movie seldom betrays the fact that it's being shot in digital format, until those blair-witch up close facial expression shots hints at the crispness and lack of a distinct film look.
Most of the actors here are rookies, but the ensemble together worked wonders. They make you believe, the heroes make you cheer, and the villains will make you hiss and spit. Given his charisma, we might see Rudy Youngblood in more roles, and I thought that he would make an engaging action hero, which the Hollywood of today is in woefully need of.
I'd say Mel Gibson hasn't disappointed with the films he directed, and I don't see how Apocalypto wouldn't be enjoyed by the masses here. But I'd predict its chances at the Oscars would have been diminished by Gibson's drunken rant. A pity, for a film like this.