A blind buy through and through, I had very little in the way of expectations for this relatively recent Robert Rodriguez helmed film, despite being quite adoring of El Mariachi and rather embracing towards his From Dusk Till Dawn, during my Halloween marathon. I am rather certain that much of this preconceived notion towards this film exists in it coming out during a time when I was still entrenching myself within a certain degree of cinematic pretension, only viewing the established classics and barely making room for any film with an established cult status that was not also part of the canon. Of course, as I noted earlier I absolutely adored El Mariachi and must simply have not made the connection while this film was originally making its way through theaters, for which I am quite regretful, considering that Machete is a bit of absurdist cinematic brilliance that one could and really should only expect from Robert Rodriguez. Knowing everything I could no about the film going in, I was not prepared for two things, first being the magnificent bit of over-the-top acting on the part of Robert De Niro who both plays against his typecast, as well as into it when it proves beneficial. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I did not expect Machete to be such an astute reflection on the state of immigration in The United States, especially considering that this film is pushing the discussion to the forefront well before it became a popular topic in last years elections, as well as an underlying theme within Casa De Mi Padre, perhaps the most overlooked comedy of last year. Of course, one cannot overlook Rodriguez's clearly vested interest in such a subject, especially since border crossing has undoubtedly proved to be a theme within so many of his earlier works. Regardless, the ways in which the maniacally driven director incorporates the best and worst of both sides of the trafficiking and sneaking between borders into a film that clocks in under two hours is to be praised and shared, hell, I would have to revisit the directors works, but as it stands this could well be my new favorite work by Rodriguez.
Machete follows, all be it somewhat loosely, the experiences of ex-federal agent Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) a vengeful Mexican man whose dead wife fuels such an impassioned desire for revenge that he proves a nearly unstoppable force. However, Machete's world is a tricky one considering that he has lost his status as a federal agent as is subsequently given the status of a Mexican citizen, making even the thought of crossing the border illegal. In fact, his only source of forward momentum appears to come from Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) a food truck vendor who also appears to be running an underground Mexican rights group cleverly named Shé. The border also proves a treacherous place regarding drugs and the trafficking of any illegal substance, much to the apparent disapproval of one Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) who hires Machete to exact an assassination attempt on the hyper-racist politician John MacLaughlin (Robert De Niro). However, it is during this assassination attempt that Machete discovers he is simply being placed on a rooftop as a scapegoat for a larger political action with some intense ties. Fortunately for Machete, Booth's drug consuming daughter April (Lindsay Lohan) is more than an easy target and actually serves as a point of blackmail against Booth on the part of Machete. Within this already twisted web, Machete also encounters Sartana (Jessica Alba) a fiery customs officer with a lot to prove and while the two initially butt heads, they eventually become romantically involved. Finally, the infamously mythic anti-immigration vigilante Von Jackson (Don Johnson) plays a huge part into the plot as he is a person whose gun seems to do his talking, not to mention his having close ties with the controversial MacLaughlin. In fact, it is MacLaughlin who is injured at the border between Mexico and the United States leading to his being killed by the very vigilantes whom he associates with, all the while Machete survives the insanity and is assumedly to return for more violence at a later time. A convoluted plot without a doubt, but one cannot forget its inherent ties to the exploitation genre, not to mention its clear consideration of the immigration issue.
Rodriguez seems quite intent on harping on the issue of immigration, not only as a problem in which American officials are ignoring a human rights issue, but also a narrative chiefly concerned with drawing attention to Mexican citizens own willful involvement in the continual exploitation of their peoples. Characters like Machete, Sartana and Luz clearly exist to battle the injustices occurring on both sides of the border, while pretty much every other person in the cast of characters exists to show one of the many barriers or complexities existing as a means to defeat the possibility of a free flowing border. Of course, drugs are a huge portion of this narrative, particularly the means with which they cause oppressed individuals within America, in this case the powerless April, to become addicted and, subsequently, involved in the oppression of Mexican citizens tied into the trade involuntarily. MacLaughlin and Jackson represent figures of ivory tower privilege who see the "illegals" crossing the border as invaders of some glorified vision of America as a puritanical place of perfection, in which every job is to be possessed by a hard working citizen of The United States, yet Rodriguez is brilliant in showing that it is perhaps the lack of ethics concerning labor as a means of earning a living that is most troubling Americans (opening up an undeniable Marxist approach to this film that is best suited for another day). In fact, Luz's attempts to properly make a living, including obtaining papers and a clientele are equally criticized, not because she is doing so illegally, but because she is engaging in the public sphere as a woman as a person of color. It is no accident that Sartana constantly criticizes her, because their dueling identities as women of color prove to be a point of distrust as opposed to unity, due to the fact of internalization. This idea of internalized oppression helps to understand the seemingly implicit role the Mexicans in the narrative play in their own inability to prosper, they have grown to fear the MacLaughlins and Jacksons of the world, when in reality as the closing scenes show, when the roles are reversed identity politics become quite arbitrary.
Key Scene: Granted De Niro plays a bad guy, but it is such an absurd performance that anytime he shows up it proves to be one of the highlights of an already excellent film.
Buy a copy. While I have a DVD version, it is vibrant and lively enough that I imagine paying an extra buck for the bluray version is more than worth it.