So impressive was Rodriguez’s 1992 El Mariachi, made on a budget of around $7,000 that Columbia offered him real money to re-make it, the result, Desperado, being part re-make, part sequal. Still set in a sleepy Mexican town, this time El Mariachi is played by Antonio Banderas, who drifts in with a guitar case, a busted hand which means he can’t play again and a burning desire for revenge against whoever was responsible for killing the love of his life.
Who happens to be the psychotic drug lord Joaquinm de Almeida. He and Banderas engage in an almost comic-book series of killings with the added complication of bookshop owner Salma Hayek who is familiar with Almeida but happy to be seduced by Banderas within minutes of meeting him (she can also shoot people as well). The cast is supplemented by Steve Buscemi as the storyteller-come-friend of Banderas and cameos from Quentin Tarantino (ironically offed in a brutal shooting) and Cheech Marin as a bartender who can do interesting things with toothpicks.
The end result is a fast-moving, all action film that owes much to the style of spaghetti westerns while still retaining a modern feel. And if the film’s plots and twists are familiar, what makes it stand out is Roderiguez’s flair for camera angles, lighting, editing and staging that make Desperado a visual as much as a visceral feast. And to be cherished for the one line when Almeida, frustrated his men can’t find Banderas even in such a small town, suggests, “You drive around town, you see someone you don’t know, you shoot them. How hard is that?”
USA / Columbia / 1995
Writer and Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino