Apocalypto (December 5/06)
The fourth film from director Mel Gibson, Apocalypto can't help but disappoint; coming on the heels of the one-two punch of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, the movie feels like a phenomenal step backwards for the thoroughly talented filmmaker.
Featuring a cast comprised entirely of unknowns and set hundreds of years ago, the film revolves around the tumult that ensues for a close-knit band of Mayans - particularly a hunter named Jaguar Paw (played by Rudy Youngblood) and his family - after a rival tribe attacks their village.
Right off the bat, Gibson's use of digital cinematography lends the proceedings a low-rent, distinctly amateurish sort of vibe which certainly pales in comparison to the lush visuals of his previous efforts (ie Caleb Deschanel's stellar work in The Passion of the Christ). It's a baffling choice that infuses virtually every frame of the film with a blandness that's ultimately distracting, particularly as Gibson shifts the focus to elements that are presumably meant to come off as epic but instead have the feel of a Discovery Channel re-enactment.
That Gibson opens the movie with a series of sequences revolving around the natives' wacky exploits - a la The Gods Must Be Crazy - surely doesn't help matters, as even the most patient viewer will be left scratching their head at the inclusion of such hijinks. The uneven vibe persists as the movie progresses, with genuinely exciting moments (ie the invasion of the village) often followed by superfluous, thoroughly dull sequences (such as a trip through a busy Mayan marketplace).
It certainly doesn't come as much of a surprise to learn that the majority of these actors had never performed before, and while Youngblood is passable as the film's hero (particularly when compared to some of his co-stars), he simply does not possess the charisma to carry an entire movie on his shoulders. The viewer's subsequent inability to actually care about Jaguar Paw's plight proves to be the film's most insurmountable obstacle, and although history buffs might find something within Apocalypto's overlong running time worth embracing, Gibson's inability to draw the average viewer into the story ultimately transforms the film into an unexpectedly tedious piece of work.