Minutia Madness: Desperado Edition
By Bret Dorman
(As always, SPOILERS! may apply to the movie in discussion.)
Everyone knows what makes a movie good. Blurbs like “compelling”, “powerful”, and “explosive non stop thrill ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat!” are common place on movie posters. In reviews (including my own) people point out how the direction is “great”, how the writing is “awesome”, and how the acting is “wonderful”. Every once in a while you can find a really great essay from a smart film critic (a real one) or film maker that actually explains why a movie is good and helps you as a viewer become a better film watcher.
But what about those small moments that fall in between the cracks? I understand the need to talk about a movie in the broad sense, its the easiest most SPOILER! free way of saying if you liked or didn’t like a movie. I prefer people to talk in specifics, to actually know why something is good or bad. But this goes beyond all that. This is blowing the tiniest detail way out of proportion. This is what makes me a film nerd. This is Minutia Madness!!!
Written & Shot, cut, and scored by Robert Rodriguez
Story or no story, memorable characters or forgettable characters, catchy line or cliche dialogue… the only thing that REALLY matters in an action movie is the action. Sure, having a good story, memorable characters, and nice one-liners make them better, but in the end people watch and re-watch (and re-watch and re-watch) action movies because the action offers us something we haven’t experienced before on a visceral level. Whether it be a guy struggling under a moving truck (Raiders of the Lost Ark), jumping off a building secured only by a fire hose (Die Hard), or anything Jackie Chan does (ever), we as action movie fans crave those small moments purely for our enjoyment.
Desperado is an exercise in those moments. The story is standard: Guy loses girlfriend to gang lord. Goes on quest for revenge. Desperado drops the mistaken identity gimmick of the first (El Mariachi) but keeps the guitar case full of guns gimmick. Why? Because it’s awesome. Why have a super armor plated limo? Because it’s awesome. Why have Danny Trejo walk around flinging knives everywhere? Because it’s awesome. Why have Banderas slick his hair back to reveal he has pulled out a sawed-off shotgun seemingly out of thin air? Because it’s FUCKING awesome!
So how, in a movie full of tiny action nuggets, can I single out just one? Well, it’s hard. To drive this point home, this isn’t the only small moment, but it perfectly encapsulates Rodriguez’s crazy kinetic style. To set the scene up… Antonio Banderas is a badass, a bunch of expendable baddies have poor aim, and a bartender makes a bad choice:
Wow. Lots of good stuff there. Rodriguez has a John Woo-like eye for action. Only instead of being operatic like Woo, RR is more rock ‘n’ roll. At the 1:48 mark in the clip, you’ll see Banderas flick his guns as he shoots them. There you have it. Why does he do this? (Everyone with me now) Because its awesome.
On the spectrum of action being super realistic or super ridiculous (who cares about anything in between?) this falls into absolutely absurd. Flicking your guns as you shoot them can be neither accurate nor effective, but remember Banderas plays an ex-musician turned gunslinger. The way he rhythmically flicks his guns as he charges atop the bar makes him like a maestro of bullets. A conductor of chaos. A complete and total rock ‘n’ roll rebel.
When I fantasize about being in a real-life action movie, I’m not worried about dying. I’m the hero, of course I live. I’m not worried about the logistics of surviving. I don’t fret about building schematics, how well trained and coordinated the bad guys are, or how many bullets one gun can carry. I’m more worried about how COOL I can look saving the day. I’m worried about running out of spin moves and catch phrases. That’s the problem RR faces in his movies. His movies aren’t representations of real life or docudramas striving for CSI-like accuracy in ballistics and the amount of gore one bullet wound produces. His movies are blueprints for daydreams of young boys bored at school (of which I am a young boy at heart and work is just as boring as school). He knows if you’re going to reload, shoot ONE bad guy with an entire clip, then reload again it can only happen in the movies.
Desperado is filled with great character design and quirky touches. Banderas’ “Fuck yiouaaaaaa” as he snaps the baddies neck after wrestling over a possibly empty gun is just the cherry on top of this lead-filled cake. This movie doesn’t ask “How far are people willing to accept the craziness,” it asks “How far are we willing to push the total mayhem.” And its the small touches along that way that amount to this being a must see for any action fan.
So what do you think? Is Banderas’ gun flicking to his own drumbeat worthy of a standing ovation? Or am I just crazy for focusing on this minute detail?