“Apocalypto” begins with a group of young men out on a hunt and lingers for a while in their happy, earthy village, a place that might double as a nostalgic vision of small-town America were it not for the loin cloths, the tattooed buttocks and the facial piercings. Blunted (Jonathan Brewer) is nagged by his mother-in-law and teased by his buddies because he hasn’t yet made his wife pregnant, but he accepts his humiliation in good humor, like the jolly fat kid on a family sitcom.
Meanwhile Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), whose father (Morris Birdyellowhead) is an admired hunter and warrior, snuggles down with his pregnant wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez), and their young son, Turtle Run (Carlos Emilio Baez). There’s fresh tapir meat on the grill and an old-timer telling stories by the fire. Life is good.
Needless to say, this pastoral idyll cannot last. The ominous strains of James Horner’s score indicate as much. Before long the village is set upon by fearsome marauders, led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), who rape, burn and kill with ruthless discipline and undisguised glee. The locals resist valiantly, but the survivors are led away to an uncertain fate. Seven and Turtle Run stay behind, hidden in a hole in the ground.
Jaguar Paw’s mission will be to rescue them and also to avenge his friends and kin. First, though, he will accompany us on a Cecil B. DeMille tour of the decadent imperial capital, a place of misery, luxury and corruption, where priests and nobles try to keep famine and pestilence at bay with round-the-clock human sacrifices.
Neither Mr. Gibson’s fans nor his detractors are likely to accuse him of excessive subtlety, and the effectiveness of “Apocalypto” is inseparable from its crudity. But the blunt characterizations and the emphatic emotional cues are also evidence of the director’s skill.
Perhaps because he is aiming for an audience wary of subtitles, Mr. Gibson rarely uses dialogue as a means of exposition, and he proves himself to be an able, if not always terribly original, visual storyteller. He is not afraid of clichés — the slow-motion, head-on sprint toward the camera; the leap from the waterfall into the river below — but he executes them with a showman’s maniacal relish.
And it is, all in all, a pretty good show. There is a tendency, at least among journalists, to take Mr. Gibson as either a monster or a genius, a false choice that he frequently seems intent on encouraging. Is he a madman or a visionary? Should he be shunned or embraced? Censured or forgiven?
These are the wrong questions, but their persistence reveals the truth about this shrewd and bloody-minded filmmaker. He is an entertainer. He will be publicized, and he will be paid.
“Apocalypto” is rated R (Under 17 must be accompanied by parent or adult guardian). See the first paragraph above.
Opens today nationwide.
Directed by Mel Gibson; written (in Maya, with English subtitles) by Mr. Gibson and Farhad Safinia; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by John Wright; music by James Horner; production designer, Tom Sanders; produced by Mr. Gibson and Bruce Davey; released by Touchstone Pictures. Running time: 138 minutes.
WITH: Rudy Youngblood (Jaguar Paw), Dalia Hernandez (Seven), Jonathan Brewer (Blunted), Raoul Trujillo (Zero Wolf), Gerardo Taracena (Middle Eye), Rodolfo Palacios (Snake Ink), Fernando Hernandez (High Priest), Maria Isidra Hoil and Aquetzali Garcia (Oracle Girls) and Abel Woolrich (Laughing Man).
WritersMel Gibson, Farhad Safinia
StarsGerardo Taracena, Raoul Max Trujillo, Dalia Hernández, Rudy Youngblood
Running Time2h 19m
GenresAction, Adventure, Drama, Thriller
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Last updated: Nov 2, 2017
Published by The Massie Twins
Release Date: December 8th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mel Gibson Actors: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Morris Birdyellowhead, Raoul Trujillo, Gerardo Taracena, Ricardo Diaz Mendoza
omplete with perilous waterfall jumps, jaguar maulings, and sacrificial beheadings (not unlike “Predator” if it were based in reality), Mel Gibson’s latest effort returns to his epic approach toward storytelling through shockingly magnificent imagery and transportive, wholly immersive environments (here, the Mesoamerican rainforest). And the writer/director’s mastery of suspense and action will certainly leave audiences at the edges of their seats. It’s a tour de force of makeup, costuming, sound mixing/editing, suspense, and violence that thunderingly evolves from a story of unyielding survival into a passionate triumph of courage and revenge – and a glimpse at the undoing of a civilization.
The tale is simple, yet surprisingly powerful. A peaceful Mayan village is attacked by invading forces, leaving Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) cruelly separated from his family (but not before hiding his wife and child in a well) and sent to a fantastical city built on blood, fear, and oppression – where he is to become a human sacrifice to the gods. A twist of fate offers him a chance to escape, and with his unwavering determination and bravery, he embarks on a bloody odyssey through unforgiving terrain to rejoin his loved ones. But as he’s savagely pursued by his enemies, Jaguar Paw must utilize the skillful prowess and cunning tricks taught to him by his father and peers to evade capture and certain doom.
Though masked by the unique setting of a 16th-century Mayan culture, “Apocalypto” is still a very human story, bestowed with an impressive familiarity thanks to a talented ensemble of relatively unknown actors (cast for their authentic, indigenous roots). Facial piercings, tattooing, and foreign languages cannot hide the human qualities of love, hatred, mettle, and fear that bring to life this stunning adventure, in which good guys are good, bad guys are most definitely bad, and death is as brutally vivid as possible. While the average viewer may be put off by reading subtitles, the harsh language of Yucatec Maya adds an authenticity to the proceedings that would have been unattainable if substituted or dubbed. The speech and culture of this archaeological people may differ vastly from any of today, but the assemblage of convincing talent creates relatable personas that transcend foreign ways of life.
As with Gibson’s previous film (“The Passion of the Christ”), the visuals tell more story than any amount of dialogue could ever hope to. A society is brought to life with bold settings, ranging from huts of grass and tree branches to towering temples of stone. Paintings and ornaments grace the outer city, while decapitated heads and bloody stairways decorate the sacrificial pyramids within. Primitively beautiful costumes of animal skins and human bones adorn the inhabitants of this mysterious domain. More drastic piercings and heavy scarring separate the protagonists from the antagonists, while each character possesses individualistic hairstyles, costuming, and weaponry.
It seems Gibson has always had a penchant for severe bloodletting in his films, and “Apocalypto” is no exception. This time around, however, the violence emphasizes the evils of men and the formidableness of nature, while also providing adequate means to satisfy the thirst for revenge. Several of the villains are so vile, in fact, that to see them meet their demise peacefully would surely be a letdown. Though not for the squeamish, the viscerally charged carnage adds a degree of realism and a raw intensity to the animalistic perseverance of the hunted. It is, after all, a chase movie, stripped of all technological advancements and vehicular ornamentation. “Apocalypto” may not be a fundamentally new beginning for Gibson’s artistry, but he continues to tackle historically-tinged, grand-scale adventures unlike anything before them. Inaccuracies in portrayals or excessive creative liberties aside, the filmmaker is undeniably adept at drawing viewers into his cinematic world, populated by strong performances, nonstop action, and riveting conflicts.
– The Massie Twins