Mel Gibson's highly respected and multi-Oscar nominated historical epic set in the ancient Mayan civilization. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is the son of tribal leader Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead) and when their village is viciously attacked by the a raiding party under Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), he witnesses his father's murder. Jaguar Paw manages to make safe his wife and child in an underground pit with a lone vine for its escape route. He and the other men fight gamely but are brought to heel by Zero Wolf's men. As the raiding party marches their prisoners off the escape vine is cut, trapping mother and child underground. The prisoners are taken to a sacrificial pyramid to prepare for a solar eclipse at which many of them will be brutally and gruesomely dissected. The remaining few (including Jaguar Paw) are let loose in a wide field for sport - Zero Wolf's men raining spears, stones and arrows on them. Jaguar Paw negotiates the suicidal run and, though injured, bypasses a raider 'finisher', Zero Wolf's son, Cut Rock, by killing him. An enraged Zero Wolf pursues Jaguar Paw into the jungle with his fellow raiders. Can Jaguar Paw reach his dying family before the murderous Zero Wolf reaches him?
Forget any off-screen impressions you may have of Mel Gibson, and experience Apocalypto as the mad, bloody runaway train that it is. The story is set in the pre-Columbian Maya population: one village is brutally overrun, its residents either slaughtered or abducted, by a ruling tribe that needs slaves and human sacrifices. We focus on the capable warrior Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), although Gibson skillfully sketches a whole population of characters--many of whom don't survive the early reels. Most of the film is set in the dense jungle, but the middle section, in a grand Mayan city, is a dazzling triumph of design, costuming, and sheer decadent terror. The movie itself is a triumph of brutality, as Gibson lets loose his well-established fascination with bodily mortification in a litany of assaults including impalement, evisceration, snakebite, and bee stings. It's a dark, disgusted vision, but Gibson doesn't forget to apply some very canny moviemaking instincts to the violence--including the creation of a tremendous pair of villains (strikingly played by Raoul Trujillo and Rodolfo Palacias). The film is in a Maya dialect, subtitled in English, and shot on digital video (which occasionally betrays itself in some blurry quick pans). Amidst all the mayhem, nothing in the film is more devastating than a final wordless exchange of looks between captured villager Blunted (Jonathan Brewer) and his wife's mother (Maria Isabel Diaz), a superb change in tone from their early relationship. Yes, this is an obsessive, crazed movie, but Gibson knows what he's doing. --Robert Horton