| by Allan Stackhouse |
If you saw Grindhouse, you are aware of the sheer awesomeness of Machete just as a trailer. Now made into a feature film, Machete has nearly swept the weekend box office, coming in at #2. The over the top hilarity of the trailer continues on in the film. It has the makings of a cheesy B movie but it's written well and has enough money to afford some great special effects and stunts. Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis directed one heck of a ride with this film while still drawing viewers' attention to a very important issue in this country, one apparently very close to Robert Rodriguez. I will use the term 'immigrants' instead of 'Mexicans' because I know many Hispanic illegal immigrants are not Mexican.
The classification by Robert Rodriguez of this film as a Mexploitation film takes away from the legitimacy of the film's message of being aware of immigrants' roles in this country: dishwashers, day laborers, nurses, chefs, gardeners, you name it. While the action is of course entertaining, the most interesting element of the film was this social commentary on race in America. The inclusion of Mexican immigrants in all their various occupations in this country serves as a reminder to everyone that this particular group of people, regardless of your personal feelings on the matter, is very much ingrained in the function of our country. Extremists who want to keep all immigrants out, immigrants themselves, and everyday American sympathizers all have a voice in this film.
The portrayal of white characters highlighted one particular extremist group of white people. The ridiculousness of these individuals was accurate in my mind. For those white people out there that say this isn't an accurate portrayal of white people, I will say that this is likely not about you. And if you still have a problem with it, you should watch just about any live action film out there to make yourself feel better - many films portray black people as ghetto, Hispanics as servants, and Asians as brainy types. The film's language is often very crude and portrays the people who use this language of very low intelligence.
The violence in the film is on the gratuitous side and judging from the sudden fade outs from many of the scenes, I assume we've got a lot coming to us in the unrated version. By the direction, the violence serves both as a tool to convey humor and drama. The crucifixion of Cheech Marin's Padre is a particularly violent scene that is not intended to be funny. One sequence in particular that got the audience cheering at the show I caught was Machete's hospital escape. He uses the foreshadowed length of a human intestine to secure his escape and it's so over the top that just thinking about it makes me smile.
Michelle Rodriguez stole the show. Besides looking absolutely amazing in the film, she gave a completely convincing performance of Luz, the taco truck lady who secretly helps immigrants. Her transformation at the end of the film when she returns as She was hinted at during the opening credits but was nonetheless amazing. Just by name alone, the cast was jaw-dropping but the performances they gave lived up to each of their long list of credits. Danny Trejo didn't have many lines, just as many heroes in late '80s/early '90s films, but he did play a very convincing character whom I found myself rooting for in the film.
The story itself is fairly basic but having the perspective changed did provide a fresh viewing experience. The only part of this film that I didn't like was the third act. I feel like it was too straightforward and provided no real conflict to the main character, whereas the preceding acts had a lot of impossible situations. The kidnapping of Jessica Alba's Sartana was supposed to provide a sense of urgency in the film but it did not. Had there been a scene in which Steven Segal's Torrez tormented Sartana instead of just depending on the revelation to Machete that , more of the drama would have been heightened.
As much as I love Sin City for reminding today's youth of the wonder noir, I find this film to be Robert Rodriguez' most significant film to date. Despite the violent nature, Machetecame from a place of awareness of one's own race, deliberately pointing out the role of Hispanics in this country and their depiction in film. As a person of Asian descent and a filmmaker, I truly appreciated this as a film as well as drawing attention to a subject that many of today's American minds – young or old - don't realize is an important part of what the USA is made of.