Posted on 10/24/09 01:09 PM
This film is not for the squeamish: jaguar maulings, snake bites, decapitation, impaling, and pure savagery. If it doesn't make you cringe a bit, then there is probably something wrong with you. The violence may turn you off entirely, but looking away will cost you a chance enjoy a magnificently conceptualized drama.
The idea behind the graphic violence, I suppose, is to provide a visceral anchor that validates the frantic energy of the proceedings. Mel Gibson spares no length in depicting the savage wrath of the Aztec civilization in order to clearly establish the desperation of Jaguar Paw, the story's protagonist.
Beyond the savagery is an intense, compelling film that follows a simplistic chase-format. However, what makes Apocalypto shine are the vibrant characters. Brought alive by incredible costume design and dialogue that is startlingly resonant, each of the principle characters have an identity and dynamic all of their own. We are allowed to see the humanity -- albeit it swayed by a warrior culture -- of the antagonists and the film is far stronger because of it.
I am very pleased to see a filmmaker take the risk of filming a Hollywood movie with (almost) no white actors, no English, and an unflinching yet accurate look at one of Central Americas great indigenous peoples.
This film is exciting, addicting, and makes no attempt to romanticize violence and suffering. Gibson digs deep in trying to paint a picture American moviegoers will not see anywhere else. It comes off like a more enjoyable Apocalypse Now, albeit with a different locale and vastly different themes. The sense of exhaustion and the dark foreboding are exactly the same, however.
My only gripes are occasionally spotty camera work (no doubt attributable to a difficult shooting location) and the use of too much slow motion. These complaints, however, are not enough to sink this utter triumph.