Audiences were given Pompeii earlier this year, a sweeping epic that had Paul W.S. Anderson bumbling his way through a history lesson and throwing every type of overused trope he could think of towards the paying public. It was a boneheaded film that was calculated by people solely thinking of what mainstream audiences eat up, yet had no respected consideration towards those who endured Anderson’s mess.
What Cinco de Mayo: The Battle showed me was that it is possible to make a dopey epic with thoughtfulness behind it. It doesn’t make the end product that much better, but you could do a lot worse.
Appropriately heading into Toronto’s Carlton Cinema days before May 5, Cinco de Mayo: The Battle takes audiences back to 1862 and shows us the friction between the French and Mexicans. Rafa Lara’s action/drama documents the lead-up towards the life-changing battle of Puebla, and then dedicates the last 30 minutes of his flick to that intense fight.
Lara’s Cinco de Mayo: The Battle is very much a souped up textbook. While it’s occasionally exciting, the story is heavy on facts and light on characterization. It’s hard to identify with anyone on screen since their personalities devolve to speaking to each other about what’s going on or what they’re planning to do.
Cinco de Mayo: The Battle is a film that throws the viewer into the story with very little introduction to anything. If the average movie goer doesn’t know about this slice of history beforehand, Lara hardly raises a finger to help that portion of the audience out – unless you count his dense title cards and subtitles.
What slightly redeems the shoddy script are the performances. The roles are acted better than expected, which hints that everyone in front of the camera are all doing their best to justify the material and keep the significance behind the history alive.
However, it’s also a film that’s obviously following and checking off a grocery list of crowd-pleasing conventions. There’s the obligatory cheesy romance between two unlikely lovers and a snarling villain with flowing hair and unapologetic motivations. These ingrediants would usually add up to dim Hollywood fare, but given its humbleness, Cinco de Mayo: The Battle’s intent comes across more appealing and more sincere.
However, Lara completely blows the battle of Puebla. What’s supposed to be the film’s jaw-dropping tension-fuelled achievement is plagued by nauseatingly jittery camera work and senseless staging. It’s not exactly an anti-climactic finish since Lara does deliver on the titled conflict, but all that build-up feels as if it was squandered on a finale that’s been handled immaturely.
It appeared as if the close-up shaky cinematography was trying to cover up the fact that wide coverage would show an underwhelming sight of the battle. If that’s the case, the director needed to expand his filmmaking creativity instead of sticking with the same sort of queasy camera work.
Rafa Lara’s epic is modest enough to never come off as moronic, but his sluggish way of retelling this moment in time isn’t very impressive either.