Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado 

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado is the original south of the border shoot em up bloodbath, bar none. I’m aware it’s a sequel/remake of Robert’s breakout debut El Mariachi, but the now legendary style and brutality he cultivated started to blossom here in the Mexican desert with scowling Antonio Banderas and his guitar case packed with heavy artillery. The aesthetic coalesced into something measurable here, whilst in Mariachi we only saw fits and starts. Here the tone is solidified and paves the way for the magnum opus that is Once Upon A Time In Mexico, my favourite Rodriguez flick. It all starts with the image of Banderas sauntering into a scumbucket cantina, full of sweaty machismo and smouldering angst, laying waste to the place with more phallic firepower than the entire wild Bunch. It’s a time capsule worthy sequence that demonstrates the pure viscerally intoxicating effect that the action film has on a viewer, when done as well as it is here. Narrated by wisecracking sidekick Buscemi (Steve Buscemi, naturally), Banderas positively perforates the place, fuelled by the internal furnace of revenge, shrouded in the acrid scent of gunpowder and awash in tequila delirium. As soon as this sequence blows past, the credits roll up and we’re treated to a Mariachi ballad sung by Antonio himself, belted out with his band to ring in this hell-beast of a movie. Together, those two scenes are some of the very, very best opening sequences you can find out there, timelessly re-watchable. The rest of the film pulls no punches either, as we see El leave a wanton gash of carnage in his wake across Mexico, on a vision quest of violence as he works his way up the ranks of organized crime, starting with slimy dive bar owner Cheech Marin. Quentin Tarantino has a spitfire cameo, rattling off a ridiculous joke before El steps into yet another bar and the shit (as well as the blood) hits the fan. His endgame target is crime boss Bucho, played with terrifying ferocity by Joaquim De Almeida. It’s hard to picture an angrier performance than Banderas’s before Almeida shows up, but this guy is a violent livewire who’s not above capping off his own henchman like ducks in a row, puffing on a giant cigar and casually blowing the smoke in his concubine’s face mid coitus. El has a love interest of his own too, in the form of ravishing, full bodied Carolina (Salma Hayek). Hayek is a babe of the highest order, and their steamy candle lit sex scene is one of the most full on ‘jizz your pants’ rolls in the hay that 90’s cinema has to offer. This is an action film to the bone though, and they’ve scarcely mopped up and caught their breath before he’s forced to dispatch another horde of Bucho’s degenerates in high style. One has to laugh a bit when a guitar case becomes a full on rocket launcher during the earth shattering finale, but such are the stylistic dreams of Rodriguez, a filmmaker who is never anything short of extreme in his work. As if the guns weren’t enough, Danny Trejo shows up as a mute assassin who like to hurl throwing knives at anything that moves, and it’s this Baby Groot version of his Machete character years later that comes the closest to punching El’s ticket. The stunt work is jaw dropping as well, a tactile ballet of broad movements, squib armies that light up the screen, accompanied by gallons of blood that follows the thunder clap of each gunshot wound like crimson lightning. It’s a perfect package for any lover of action, romance, action, darkest of humour, action, oh and action too. When discussing films that have held up in years or decades since release, this one is not only a notable mention, it’s a glowing example and a classic that has just aged gorgeously.

-Nate Hill

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