There are two films in 2003 which Depp elevates with an unexpectedly bold and unusual performance; they’re this one and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Now the two films are pretty different to one another, but I think it’s true to say that both would have wound up as fun, but ultimately rather forgettable were it not for Depp. Now that’s not to obscure the other strong factors here; Banderas is great reprising his role of El Mariachi, and Rodriguez is clearly having a lot of fun blasting gunshots everywhere and smashing stuff up, but they both pale in comparison to Depp’s efforts.
Despite the film being the concluding part of a trilogy, you can watch this independently of the proceeding two. Not that I’m suggesting you skip El Mariachi and Desperado, but the characters here are painted in broad strokes which don’t require back-stories beyond those which this film provides. At its purest you have a film about a supremely skilled hitman who’s out for revenge and the multiple colourful characters who become mixed up in the bloodshed. Once you have multiple allegiance swaps, a confused plot and a dash of politics thrown in you quickly realise that you have to just sit back and enjoy the spectacle rather than focus upon the story. Could it have been improved with a tighter focus, more developed characters and a structured plot? Of course it could, however I didn’t find myself caring all that much.
With its Leone and Tarantino influences boldly splashed across its sleeve, Once Upon a Time in Mexico is very far from being perfect, but it is loud, colourful, and often ludicrous – and all in a good way. There’s a fair bit of extreme and fun violence, some great comedic lines, and a couple of memorable performances. It may have its multiple flaws, but it will still give you a good time, and occasionally it hints at greatness.
What is the film’s greatest strength?
The free spirited, fun approach to the film in general. With Depp being a close second.
Its greatest weakness?
It doesn’t hurt to have a coherent plot and empathetic characters.
Would I see it again?
Yes, I wouldn’t choose it over a Leone film, but it’s fun in its own way and is certainly re-watchable.
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