- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Set aside Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant and the media maelstrom that followed — no easy feat, to be sure. The guy knows his way around a camera. Mr. Gibson’s “Apocalypto” is a brisk adventure whose tortured beauty belies the ugliness in those news clippings.

And we don’t use the word “tortured” by accident.

Once again, a Gibson movie traffics in sadistic violence. Instead of Jesus Christ getting flayed within an inch of his life, we have Mayans literally losing their heads seconds after watching their hearts get scooped out of their chest cavities.

Let’s hope Mr. Gibson finds a spa retreat coupon in his stocking this year.

“Apocalypto” follows what we’re told is a decaying Mayan civilization. But after an opening crawl which explains his intentions, Mr. Gibson fumbles his fascinating thesis about cultural suicide. A friendly tribe stumbles across Jaguar Paw’s path early on bemoaning a lack of food. Later, a little girl mumbles dire warnings about a plague that suggests the modern AIDS crisis. And there’s plenty of generic talk about fear, but these omens never coalesce to form a coherent message about the sources of cultural collapse.

It’s far better to take the film on a literal level, relishing the rich set pieces and cringing when the blood starts gurgling.

The film opens with Mayan villagers pulling the kind of pranks Mr. Gibson himself is known to play on movie sets. The Mayan men bond by teasing one of their more vulnerable members, a comic breather before the true story unfolds.

A neighboring tribe storms their tranquil village, killing man, woman and child before dragging off the surviving adult males as prisoners.

Young Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) escapes the initial assault and sends his pregnant wife and child down into a nearby pit for safety. But he is captured when he returns to the fray to help his friends.

The marauders take Jaguar Paw and his fellow villagers to a sprawling Mayan city where a whole new gauntlet of horrors awaits — and squeamish viewers will regret not buying a ticket for “Happy Feet.”

But Mr. Gibson has a bona fide action hero in Jaguar Paw, and Mr. Youngblood’s athleticism finds poetic expression in the film’s nimble chases. The pace and performances are assured, and “Apocalypto” is the speediest 138-minute movie you’ve ever seen.

Mr. Gibson creates a hyper-realistic vision of a past civilization filled with gloriously attired heroes and villains, but he can’t resist anachronistic speed bumps. One character gives birth under extreme conditions, a scene sure to elicit snickers. And the film’s subtitles — once again Mr. Gibson leans on an ancient language — indicate the Mayans knew the power of a well placed expletive.

“Apocalypto” reminds us that Mr. Gibson’s thinking can be as muddled as his drunken outbursts — but there’s no denying his growing power to grab and hold our attention with his art.


TITLE: “Apocalypto”

RATING: R (Gore, steady violence, disturbing imagery, torture and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Mel Gibson. Written by Mr. Gibson and Farhad Safinia. Original music by James Horner.

RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes

WEB SITE: https://apocalypto.



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