Apocalypto

Here's a thought: instead of rehashing Mel Gibson's Jew-bashing rants when L.A. cops got him on a DUI in July, let's stick to his movie. Apocalypto brings out what's unique and gripping in Gibson as a director. It's pure adrenaline — a tremendously exciting chase movie, shot in Mexico, that just happens to be set in ancient Maya with dialogue spoken in Yucatec Maya, with English subtitles. Heck, you lived through Latin and Aramaic in Gibson's Passion of the Christ, so don't be a wussy. Actually, you'd better not be gore-shy, because Apocalypto is one brutal and bloody ride.

The plot, cooked up by Gibson and Farhad Safinia, focuses on Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a braveheart if ever there was one. Even women and children are killed when his village is attacked by another tribe. After hiding his pregnant wife and young son in a cave, Jaguar goes on the run experiencing adventures that would give Indiana Jones the screaming meemies. The movie flies by fast enough to cause whiplash. Youngblood, 25, is a Comanche and Cree Indian from Texas, and he holds the screen every treacherous inch of the way, suffering penitential hardships from spears, snakes and tribal rulers intent on removing his heart while it's still beating.

This being Gibson, there's more to the film than the rush. It's impossible not to see parallels to our own cultured civilization, one that knowingly destroys its environment and sends troops to Iraq as human sacrifices. Gibson has made a film of blunt provocation and bruising beauty — it's breathtaking to watch a jaguar racing in the jungle alongside the man who is named after the beast. Say what you will about Gibson, he's a filmmaker right down to his nerve endings.

From The Archives Issue 299: September 6, 1979