As the turbulent end of the once great Mayan civilization approaches, the rulers send troops to capture villagers who will be sacrificed to the gods to help break the drought and restore the health of the community. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), whose wife Seven (Dalia Hernandez) is pregnant with their second child, is captured and taken on a perilous journey into a world ruled by fear and oppression where a harrowing end awaits him. But a solar eclipse has a profound impact on these superstitious people and gives him a chance, but escape is fraught with deadly danger, and the soldiers set off in pursuit, as he heads for his village, his family - and, he hopes, a new life.
Review by Louise Keller:
Apocalypto is a stunning film, and arguably Mel Gibson's greatest achievement yet. There are no Hollywood stars or sex scenes, but a fascinating insight into the way of life of the people of the Mayan civilisation. Just like Ten Canoes took us deep into the culture of Australia's indigenous people, Gibson's epic drama slashes open a world that until now was foreign to us. Like the pounding percussive beat that accompanies much of the film, there is a visceral energy that pulsates throughout. The violence is brutally savage and our emotions are pulped raw, yet we are compulsively drawn into this disturbing, shocking, thrilling and exhilarating world.
The tone is set from the first bloody encounter with a wild boar, when its heart, liver, ears and testicles are shared among the hunters as a prize. Despite the huge canvas on which the story is set, the heart of the story lies with the Chief's son Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood, charismatic), a young father and husband. His first thought when the village is being invaded and torched, is to save his son and pregnant wife (Dalia Hernandez), mindful of the life lesson his father has taught him, that fear is a sickness.
The lush jungle settings with surging rivers and cascading waterfalls are spectacular, and there is non-stop motion in every frame of Dean Semler's awe-inspiring cinematography. There are hearts plucked from torsos, decapitated heads flung down Mayan pyramids and sadistic cruelty as the villagers are taken prisoner. The chase sequences as Jaguar Paw is being pursued through the jungle are fabulous, and there is nothing more exciting when the glistening black jaguar joins in.
Gibson has no trouble getting terrific performances from the entire huge cast of mostly non-actors, who were cast for their impressively athletic bodies. The people are a paradox - primitive savagery contrasted by a sophistication of astral worldliness and tribal superstitions. We are on edge for every single minute of this unforgettable film that is filled with beginnings and endings. A mammoth achievement.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Mel Gibson has single handedly broken down the American public's reticence for subtitled movies, first with The Passion and now Apocalypto (No 1 at US box office on opening), the latter going back in time to the tail end of Mayan civilisation. (Judging by one seashore scene, the film is set in 1517.) Gibson's name, even if he's off screen, still has marquee value, it seems, and his bold choice of subjects, coupled with a talent for cinema, are marketing enough. One rule he seems to have learnt is to make films that are unique; by any measure, Apocalypto stands out from the crowd of films in both thematic terms and in filmmaking terms.
The result is a gripping film that begins by fascinating us and then quickly enthrals with its action and chase scenarios - and confronts us, too, with some brutal violence. Interspersed throughout are little modules of message - about the negative powers of fear and oppression, about the value of the environment and finally about the strength of the individual. But the messages are diluted and referencing to the ills of today are muted. Nor is it to be read as a historical document, in depth research notwithstanding; it's a mass entertainment, an epic period chase movie - with loots of drumming.
Rudy Youngblood does a remarkably fine first job as Jaguar Paw, as do the entire cast of indigenous actors (some who have only been called actors since the start of filming) and the excitement is kept at fever pitch by the savagery of the society in which this story takes place. Astonishing production design brings us right into the place and time, while Dean Semler's cinematography makes the most of the spectacular jungles and other locations.
Made with consummate technical skill, the film nevertheless oozes with a heartfelt commitment to human courage and decries the barbarity of superstitions and paganism.
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CAST: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Carlos Emilio Baez, Ramirez Amilcar, Israel Contreras, Israel Rios
PRODUCER: Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson
DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson
SCRIPT: Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dean Semler
EDITOR: Kevin Stitt, John Wright
MUSIC: James Horner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Thomas E. Sanders
RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 11, 2007