El Mariachi (1992)

As modern a western as imaginable at the time of its release, “El Mariachi” has aged like a fine wine. The fact that its bones are rooted in western conventions constantly adapted to the social realities of then-modern Mexico City makes a tremendously effective placeholder for the wild west, creating a cinematic atmosphere that’s as brutal and unforgiving as life in the desert. In the lead role, Carlos Gallardo delivers an impressive performance, managing to communicate his character’s emotional states without even changing the expression on his face, which makes his occasional emoting all the more effective. That type of restraint also applies to the action scenes, which are fairly low-scale but presented majestically, as though writer-director Robert Rodriguez was inspired not only be westerns but by operas as well: That unique, distinctive approach to violence and chaos underlines the emotional consequences of the violence we’re seeing on screen, all of which heightens what is, at heart, a surprisingly moving story about grief, hope and redemption.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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