Starring Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Robert Deniro, Lindsay Lohan, Michelle Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and Jessica Alba. Directed by Robert Rodriguez.
A lot of controversy has surrounded this movie in Texas. The director, Robert Rodriquez, has been falsely accused of trying to start a race war with his portrayal of politicians, border agents and vigilantes in the border state. While this film is a black comedy and an excellent political satire, at that, it is in many ways an accurate portrayal of attitudes and events that I experienced living in Texas, both on the border in El Paso and worse – in eastern Texas.
In many ways this film is an expose, which is why the locals are ruffled. It has always been the case – especially in times of tyranny – that more can be said in fiction than in non-fiction. Sometimes the truth is better expressed in fiction.
The opening of this film gives you the feeling of being on a roller coaster, right when you strap yourself in and prepare yourself for the first big dip. It has a distinctly ’70s feel and it allows itself that level of artistic freedom.
It was difficult for me to watch the first fifteen minutes of Machete, as the situation that the lead character, Machete, finds himself in is set up. I found myself reliving scenes from my own life in Texas. You haven’t lived until you find yourself on the business end of a loaded gun, surrounded by cops and drawling rednecks who want to kill you for no particular reason or been caught up in an immigration raid – I’ve experienced this and more in Texas, which why I refuse to enter that state, again.
Machete (Danny Trejo) is a Mexican Federal cop whose entire family is murdered by drug-running American border agents and politicians. As he cannot return to Mexico, he must remain in the U.S. without papers. He is forced to work as a common laborer until one day he is approached by a man who works for a Texas senator. He’s hired to do what he thinks is an assassination, but it is, in fact, a set up.
As it turns out, the politician’s henchman picked the wrong man, because Machete is no ordinary laborer – he’s not even an ordinary man. He’s on the verge of being superhuman.
Once you settle into the blood and gore and the Phython-esque humor, you begin to laugh and, in fact, cheer as the crimes of the politicians, the border agents and the vigilantes are exposed and one by one, they are brought to justice – sometimes with gardening tools!
There are so many brilliant performances in this movie, it is hard to know where to start enumerating them. Robert DeNiro may have been the biggest surprise of all in a movie that is full of fun and surprises. If you ever doubted that acting is an art, you will question it no further when you see DeNiro as the perverse Texas senator. When you first see him, he is addressing a crowd in standard Texas good ole’ boy attire and doing it with a convincing drawl, even changing the sound of his voice. I didn’t not recognize him for a full five seconds and then he grins that unmistakable lizard grin of his and I laughed at myself.
He drops the accent for his own charming New York brogue in one of the best lines in the movie, at the end, “”I hate Texas, its hot and I’m not even from here”
Lindsay Lohan was amazing, although, he particular role didn’t seem like much of a stretch. She plays the drug-addicted, sleazy daughter of the Senator’s main henchman. I think the marketing on this film has been nothing short of masterful. Since we’re expecting to see Lindsay as a nun, we wonder how she ends up that way. And, that is another great surprise in the movie that I won’t spoil for you.
She is wonderful at the end of the movie as she opens fire on the vigilantes. In fact, the entire climax of this film is both very darkly comedic, violent and triumphant. I viewed this film in a small theater in Branson with only four other people. But, I could imagine that if I were sitting in a theater in New York City (where audiences are very vocal and often talk back to the movie screen!) that the entire theater would have been brought to its feet cheering.
This is by far the best movie I’ve seen this year and the best I’ve seen in a long time. It can be enjoyed on so many different levels. One one level it is an action film, full of violence and profanity. But, it does what it does with intelligence and humor – a satirical wit that will, undoubtedly, be lost on many viewers. And, on another level it is an expose. It says things that we wouldn’t dare say publicly in a non-fiction context for fear of repercussions.
Those who criticized this film as a ‘”racist bloodbath” were both right and wrong. It is something of a bloodbath, although to see it as racist requires a uniquely border-state perspective on the subject of race. Since my own experiences in Texas parallel some of the events in Machete, I think they fear the real bloodbath on our borders and the causes of it will be exposed – as they are, to a large extent – in the movie. Interestingly, most of the criticism I heard of this film came out of Texas – the capitol city of Austin, specifically. Me thinks they doth protest too much.
In fact, the central theme in this movie is a profoundly American one: “There is no law without justice.” And, in the end Machete is all about liberty and justice for all.
If you’re looking for a movie that is something more, then this is it. It really is a thrill ride.