I haven’t seen many films directed by Robert Rodriguez, which may come as a bit of a surprise to some who know my penchant for action and adventure films. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, I’m just not very familiar with Rodriguez, despite his prominence as a filmmaker. I know he directed Desperado, a prominent action movie that launched the American career of Antonio Banderas. I also know he and erstwhile pal Quentin Tarantino have collaborated on a few projects. And I saw From Dusk till Dawn about 15 years ago, if that counts for anything. And so it was from this framework that I figured I’d give some of his movies a shot and see what happens.
To start things off I watched El Mariachi, the first full-length movie Robert Rodriguez directed. In fact, he wrote, directed, edited, and did much of the crew work himself because the meager budget of $7,000 (financed chiefly through Rodriguez’ participation in a medical study) just didn’t allow for much else. And while El Mariachi is far from great, it’s a good example of professio ex adversum: art from adversity. What Rodriguez lacked in anything resembling production value, he made up for with a captivating central character, an interesting story, and a fast-paced directing style that keeps things interesting and engaging for much of the picture.
The film tells the story of a young Mexican guitar player (Carlos Gallardo) who has set out on his own to find fame and fortune as a mariachi. He ends up in a sleepy town where the locals mistake him for a killer who dresses in black and carries a guitar case full of weapons. Realizing that people are after him, the Mariachi decides that hiding out isn’t much of an option, so he finds ways to fight back, sometimes with bloody results. He also befriends a local woman named Domino who works as a bartender and also has some interesting ties to a drug lord who is connected to the real killer. It’s an interesting story with a few twists along the way and a surprising ending to boot, and all in all a pretty solid canvas for Rodriguez to paint some compelling action scenes and build a few interesting characters along the way.
While it might be easy to dismiss El Mariachi as a bit too cheesy, a bit too low-budget, and certainly lacking in grandiose Hollywood-style explosions and slow-motion gunslinging scenes, I admire Rodriguez for putting together a fast-paced action film despite the odds against him. The efficiency with which he tells the story is striking: we know very little about the Mariachi (who, incidentally, has no name in the movie) but his story is compelling nonetheless. He and Domino have a relationship that is believable, if far from actually being romantic. And the action scenes with shootouts in bars and the city streets are surprisingly effective thanks to Rodriguez’ solid cutting and editing even though the weapons and blood squibs are so obviously fake.
And so on its own the film is just average, while at times borderline cheesy. But as a film that was crafted with passion and dedication despite all odds against the director, it’s practically astounding. I’m anxious to see Desperado now, the follow-up film that made Rodriguez a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
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