Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw
Iazua Larios as Sky Flower
Dalia Hernandez as Seven
Jonathan Brewer as Blunted
Morris Birdyellowhead as Flint Sky
Carlos Emilio Baez as Turtles Run
Ramirez Amilcar as Curl Nose
Israel Contreras as Smoke Frog
Israel Rios as Cocoa Leaf
María Isabel Díaz as Mother in Law
Espiridion Acosta Cache as Old Story Teller
Mayra Serbulo as Young Woman
Lorena Hernández as Village Girl
Itandehui Gutierrez as Wife
Sayuri Gutierrez as Eldest Daughter
Directed by Mel GIbson
Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” is an impressive achievement in filmmaking, a true vision in every sense of the word, realized as a stunning ballet of unforgettable visuals and unrelenting violence.
When Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) and his tribe are attacked, he hides his pregnant wife and child in a cave for their own protection, but then he’s separated from them as the survivors from his tribe are taken to be sacrificed to the Gods. Knowing that his wife only can survive for limited time, Jaguar Paw must find a way to escape and get back home.
For only his fourth film in thirteen years, director Mel Gibson proves that the scope and vision of “Braveheart” was no fluke, as he takes his third step into the distant past with a story set during Mayan times. When Mel Gibson announced he’d be making a film completely in the language of the Mayan tribes, people started wondering about his sanity, but you have to give him credit for executing his vision into an accessible movie filled with action, tension, drama and even a bit of humor. While nothing can prepare the view for the visceral experience of “Apocalypto,” there’s also a beauty to the simplicity and purity of the storytelling which uses a standard three-act format.
The film’s hero is Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a young hunter who comes to the harsh realization that the world is changing when his jungle-dwelling tribe are attacked by a more advanced group of savages. He hides his pregnant wife and child in a cave as the village is pillaged, men are killed, women are raped, and parentless children are left alone to fend for themselves. Jaguar Paw and the survivors are bound together and led on a journey across miles to a hugely-populated city with an imposing pyramid where people are being sacrificed to the gods to help the failing crops. An unexpected event saves Jaguar Paw, but his opportunity to flee is merely a chance for a bit of target practice. Being a fast runner proves to be a blessing for the resourceful young man, who finds ways to evade and fend off his pursuing captors, knowing that he has limited time to get back to his wife and child.
“Apocalypto” is by no means an “art film’ and there’s very little to think about, since we know right away who’s good, who’s bad–hint: the latter are the bloodthirsty killers with absolutely no redeeming qualities–and Rudy Youngblood’s impressive performance as Jaguar Paw makes him the type of hero you’re rooting for as soon as you meet him. Never while watching this do you feel as if you’re watching actors reading lines in a movie, because Gibson sets things up to feel as if you’re being given a glimpse into the past with real Mayan savages. It’s easy to watch the film and be awed by the way Team Gibson captures this singular vision from the lovely scenery to the intricate costumes and jewelry worn by different tribes. When Jaguar Paw arrives at the city, we get to see the full scope of Gibson’s vision through the young man’s eyes, as it is an extravagant spectacle of different tribes, races and costumes unlike anything we’ve seen before, and even more impressive after so many scenes set in the jungle.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that “Apocalypto” is far more violent and brutal than “Braveheart” and even “Passion.” After all, these are savages surviving in the jungle. (Anyone intrigued by this concept should check out “The End of the Spear” which shows how similar South American tribes were warring even centuries later.)
Surprisingly, Gibson throws quite a bit of humor amidst the violence, including an early physical gag that would have fit easily into a Farrelly Brothers movie. The biggest laughs come from a few frivolous subtitle translations like when a large tree nearly kills someone and they yell, “I’m walking here!”–a phrase frequently used by New York pedestriansor when a tribesman tells his poisoned mate that he’s “f**ked.” Not the kind of statements you’d ever think to be in a Mayan’s vocabulary.
Sure, the vengeful nature of the last act leads to a few silly moments like when Jaguar Paw does a wicked power slide to avoid an assailant’s blow that would make Tenacious D proud or some of the things his wife has to endure while in the cave. Still, for a film about a strange time in history executed completely in Mayan languages, “Apocalypto” keeps you riveted to the screen for over two hours without any of the lulls or dips normally found in similar epics.
The Bottom Line:
Not every fan of Gibson’s “Braveheart” or “The Passion of The Christ” will be able to get into this story about warring Mayan tribes, but there’s something to be said about how Gibson has created one of the most original and visually-stimulating epics to come around in ages. Whatever people want to say about Gibson, his amazing vision, his sense of humor and his ability to entertain points to him being a filmmaker still in top form and doing the best work of his career.