Quite a few things happened in 1992. First of all, I moved to Atlanta, which is small in scale compared to some of the other events in that year, such as the L.A. riots, Bill Blinton being elected, and Hurricane Andrew. During all these events, a director’s debut film came out and it probably would not have got a lot of notice among the everyday audience. But the studios and critics loved it and it ended up making the director a household name, especially after he made the sequel to this film. So let’s take a look at Robert Rodriguez’s humble beginnings with today’s movie, El Mariachi.
The plot: In a small Mexican jail, an inmate named Azul receives a phone call from Moco, a local drug lord that Azul used to work for. As Azul and Moco talk on the phone, three armed men enter the jail to kill Azul. However, Azul runs his own business from the jail and his fellow prisoners are also his bodyguards. They kill one of the men, and capture the other two, then Azul calls Moco back and has him listen as his men kill the other two assassins. Azul then leaves the jail, where he is picked up by some of his men on the outside and given a guitar case full of guns, which he plans to use to kill Moco. Meanwhile, a young man, with dreams of becoming a mariachi like his father, arrives in the town of Acuna looking for work. the guitarist tries finding work at the first bar he comes to but the bartender says he has no need for one mariachi player as he has a man with a keyboard that can act as an entire band. The Mariachi leaves but soon after, Azul shows up at the bar looking for Moco and learning that Moco owns the bar and the men inside work for him, Azul kills the four men, leaving the bartender and keyboardist alive. The bartender calls Moco and tells him what happened, describing the killer as a man wearing black and carrying a guitar case. Moco pages his lieutenant Bigoton and when he calls him back, Moco orders him to kill Azul, giving him the description that the bartender told him and Bigoton tells the local hotel manager to call him if he sees anyone matching that description. Unknowingly, the Maricahi matches the desctiption of Azul so when he checks into the hotel, the manager calls Brighton to let him know. Laying down on the bed, the Mariachi falls asleep but is quickly woken by a bad dream and he walks out of his room to find Bigoton and some more of Moco’s men at the hotel looking for him, scared for his life, the Mariachi runs out of the hotel but is forced to go back when he realizes he left his guitar inside. The Mariachi tries escaping but when he is cornered by two of Moco’s men, he runs between them, causing them to shoot themselves, then knocks out Bigoton and uses his gun to kill his last pursuer. The Mariachi runs to a nearby bar run by a woman named Domino and explains that he killed some men in self defense and he needed a place to hide because he was sure the men were looking for someone else. Domino takes pity on The Mariachi and lets him stay in her room upstairs. Shortly later, Bigoton enters the bar and uses the phone to call Moco and after the phone call, he tells Domino that the man he is looking for carries a guitar case full of weapons. When he leaves, Domino heads upstairs and finding the Mariachi in her tub, she grabs a letter opener and holds it against his throat while she opens the guitar case and finds it does contain a guitar. Threatening to castrate him, Domino orders the Mariachi to play the guitar and sing and when he finishes, she realizes that he was telling the truth and agrees to hire him to play in her bar for free room and board. The next day, Moco calls Azul and the two men argue over how many people Azul killed and Moco says they will have to see this whole thing through. Meanwhile, The Mariachi decides to go back to the motel to get his money and leaves his guitar and jacket at the bar, asking Domino to watch them. When he leaves, Domino makes a phone call to a friend of hers, who happens to be Moco. Meanwhile, Azul walks into the bar looking for Domino but when the bartender says she isn’t there, he leaves but realizes that he grabbed the wrong guitar case when some of Moco’s men grab him but let him go when they open the case and see the guitar. The Mariachi saw Azul leaving Domino’s bar and realizes that he is the one the men are looking for but when he realizes that The case he has isn’t his, he runs out of the bar to get his guitar back and sees Azul as well as Bigoton and Moco’s men. Bigoton and the men chase after the Mariachi and he is forced to kill the two men pursuing him. The Mariachi heads back to Domino’s bar, where she tends to his wounds and admits that Moco owns the bar, which he bought her to try and convince her to be his woman but she has refused him. The next day, Domino gives the Mariachi some money to buy a new guitar and he goes out but ends up getting caught by Bigoton and Moco’s men. They take him to see Moco but when he looks at the Mariachi, Moco tells Bigoton that they got the wrong guy so they take the Mariachi back to town and drop him on the street. Meanwhile, hearing from his men that Moco’s men grabbed the Mariachi, Azul heads back to Domino’s bar and gets his case back from Domino, then says that if she wants to see the Mariachi, to take her to Moco’s ranch. When they get there, Azul points a gun at Domino’s head and heads inside, but find Moco standing there with his men holding guns at them. Meanwhile, the Mariachi heads to Domino’s bar and learning where she has gone, he grabs the keys to her motorcycle and heads to Moco’s ranch. At the ranch, Azul asks for his money and Moco sends one of his men to get it but when Domino asks about the Mariachi, Moco realizes that she is in love with him and in a jealous rage, kills Domino, then Azul. The Mariachi arrives and sees the body of Domino and cradles her body. Moco approaches and begins yelling at the Mariachi before shooting his left hand, ruining the Mariachi’s ability to play the guitar. Reeling from the pain, the Mariachi sees Azul’s pistol and uses it to kill Moco, after which, Moco’s men simply walk off and leave the Mariachi alone. With his dreams of being a mariachi in ruins, the Mariachi leaves town, taking Domino’s motorcycle, dog, and letter opener, as well as the case full of guns with him.
El Mariachi was highly praised by the critics, holding a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus among the critics concerning the film was “Made on a shoestring budget, El Mariachi’s story is not new. However, the movie has so much energy that it’s thoroughly enjoyable.” The movie was a box office smash as it made $2 million off of a $7000 budget. In 2011, the movie was deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, citing in particular that it was the movie that helped usher in the independent movies boom in the 90’s.
This is a good movie to watch, especially since it was such a great setup for future movies. The acting was pretty good, especially Carlos Gallardo (the Mariachi), who did a really good job as the lead. I agree with the critics as the whole mistaken identity plot line was not original but Rodriguez did a good job in keeping the audience invested in what was going on in the film. Watching this movie, you wouldn’t have believed it was made for just $7000 which is also a testament to Rodriguez’s directing abilities. With plenty of suspense and humor added into the movie, it is well worth watching.
Rating: 4 out of 5