(On TV, March 2000) The reputation of Robert Rodriguez’s first, ultra-cheap (16,000$, financed with credit card and blood donations) action film overshadows its actual value, but even then, expect to be pleasantly surprised by this rather simple crime tale. This modern-day western -well-set in Mexico- with requisite good-guy, bad-guy and cute-chick, has its dull moments but also its good ones. The better-known -and more enjoyable- sequel, Desperado, is really a bigger-budget rehash of the same elements more than a sequel. While not essential, El Mariachi is a pretty good choice for Rodriguez fans, and/or anyone looking for a slightly different action film.
(Second viewing, On DVD, March 2004) There are few clearer examples of “the little film that could” than this one: Produced for peanuts by Robert Rodriguez, who used the unexpected success of the film to go on to other, better things, El Mariachi benefits enormously from this “Special Edition” DVD treatment. Anyone who’s familiar with the Rodriguez oeuvre on DVD knows that the man is a ceaseless fount of fascinating information, and so his audio commentary on the film is packed with production anecdotes and tips on how to save money on a low-budget shoot. The film itself has its moments, but it’s a lot more interesting as an example of what can be done with nothing than a full action thriller. Director Robert Rodriguez’s first notable full-length feature is not a bad movie by itself, but it becomes far more astonishing once you know that it cost less than the price of a new car to shoot. In this light, the special edition DVD is a must-see for all budding filmmakers and cinema enthusiasts, because Rodriguez spares no effort in showing us How It’s Done For Nothing, from deceptive camera angles to the usefulness of having local connections. The DVD’s best extra is the director’s commentary, which is (as Rodriguez fans may know from other commentaries) jam-packed with information about the actual making of the film. Wonderful stuff, somewhat complemented by another of his “Ten-minute film school” featurettes. The film is good, but the surrounding material is just great. Don’t skimp on the supplemental material on the DVD, as they give a further behind-the-scene glimpse of the making of the film. While I’d be surprised if general audiences really got into the film, cinephiles and budding directors will be endlessly fascinated.