Plot: As the Mayan kingdom faces its decline, a young man is taken on a perilous journey to a world ruled by fear and oppression – Apocalypto
Director: Mel Gibson
Released: January 2007
Sure, Mel Gibson has gone a little off the rails in his personal life lately, but the films he makes do tend to be both beautifully shot, well made and best of all he is always willing to take a risk and doesn’t pander to the audience, with Apocalypto most assuredly no different, you will certainly have to make the effort enjoy it.
Firstly, there is the use of Mayan, a language that’s all but died out, it was a risky choice but one I felt worked well, not only did it make sure the viewer paid attention to everything you saw on screen, but also adds a more authentic cultural feel to the piece that would otherwise be lost if English was used.
Secondly, the film’s choice of antagonist isn’t what you would expect from what is still a big-budget Hollywood picture. I went in expecting this to be about Europeans causing the end of the Mayan culture and sure the might show up eventually, but in reality, the film is about two tribes fighting for survival, one much bigger than the other, in a brutal and violent manner reminiscent of the treatment of the documentary makers in Cannibal Holocaust, though not quite at that level and at no point did it feel unwarranted or gratuitous, this was something that was part Mayan culture and as a result, it never looks out of place and helps the film rather than hindering it.
Given that all the cast were relative unknowns, the acting throughout felt natural, especially given that none of them was using their mother tongue to perform and being tasked with very difficult content to contend with. The stand out for me is that of Ruby Youngblood, who makes the character of Jaguar Paw someone you truly get behind and feel for, as he attempts to get back home and save his family.
You know from the very first sequence that you’re in for a visual treat when watching Apocalypto, every aspect is beautifully shot and from the dense jungles to the sprawling Mayan cities, you can’t help but want to explore more of this rich and vibrant culture that’s too often overlooked or mistreated by Hollywood.
There are very elements of the film that I could see as faults. Indeed, the only ones I could find were minor indeed, The first being the ending feeling slightly too short, I would have happily sat through another 20 minutes of finding out what happened after the rescue and the Europeans coming ashore. The second being the underdevelopment of the female characters, none of which felt like anything other than a device to further the plot.
All in all, sure there are a couple of flaws, but Gibson’s use of the camera is impressive and has managed to produce an intricate movie that brings a new culture to the big screen.
If you liked: The Green Inferno, Master and Commander, The Passion of the Christ