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Apocalypto (2006)  

Review: written 31st Augest 2007

Brilliantly shot, visceral, with just a hint of a message

Whether or not you think this movie succeeds, rather depends on what you think Mel Gibson set out to do. I tend to think he just wanted to make a darn good action movie, but in a setting we never see in movies - the Mayan culture. If I am right, then he succeeded well, and warrants a healthy star rating.

However, there is a little more in the movie that might suggest he was reaching for something more. The story is in two broad parts. After an introduction to a bucolic life in the jungle with hunting and breeding the topics for discussion and frivolity, the movies real first part kicks off with a brutal attack on the village, and the survivors being taken away into slavery. The only people left behind are our heroes wife and child, who remain trapped in a well unless he returns, giving our protagonist his motivation. Thus the second part is the gruelling and cruel march to the Mayan city, which is almost like a Sodom and Gomorrah in its wickedness and depravity, the very essence of a city and culture in decay. Our hero escapes from an apparently certain death, and the third part is a chase as he is hunted down, and he seeks to return to his family to rescue them.

It's all cannily put together as a whole, and also in its memorable if gory individual scenes. The director's eye for a breath-taking shot is undeniable - I was reminded of the beauty of `The Mission' during the waterfall scene . The success of the movie is largely due to its script (ironically, given the subtitles) which really draws us in to the characters’ lives and makes us care at least a bit. And for action, the final chase scene makes our hero something like Schwarzenegger in Predator as he uses the jungle against the city folk to great effect.

So a top notch action movie then? Yes, but there is then that added ambiguous element - as set out in the opening quote referring to civilisation in decline that there are real similarities, even in such an obscure scenario, to modern day. Just enough to make you think about it if you want to, but not enough to hammer any point home. The final few shots in particular are effective in tying up the movie in a slightly unexpected way. In another unexpected and only lightly touched upon theme, the final third of the movie is foretold in a rather spooky scene, giving an oddly spiritual or supernatural element to an otherwise very visceral and down to earth story.

If he set out to make a message movie, then the movie only half succeeded - but as an action movie with the balls and cleverness to make you leave the cinema thinking? Spot on.

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