And the feel-good movie of 2006 is, drum roll please, not “Apocalypto.” One shouldn’t be surprised. Mel Gibson’s last two films should have been an omen. “Braveheart” – torture. “The Passion of the Christ” – torture. And “Apocalypto” – um, you guessed it, torture. Despite this beaten-to-death trend, Gibson’s recent torture-fest is, at least, notable for being off-the-radar from what Hollywood makes. Easily, “Apocalypto” has three things that could give studio executives heart attack: an unknown cast, English-free dialogue, and a time period so ancient, Suri Cruise wasn’t even born.

The film tells the fictional story of Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who lives in a tribal village, somewhere in the jungles of Central America, sometime in 1500s. His father is proud of him. His pregnant wife and his young son love him. Life couldn’t get better for Jaguar Paw, until, well, life gets worse. Misfortune enters when a hostile band of men raids his village and bring in a lot of hurt. Some villagers escape, some die, and some, like Jaguar Paw, are subdued and held as captives. Tied up like animals, Jaguar Paw and his fellow slaves journey through pushy rivers and you-can-slip-off-the-edge high roads. They’re off to the heart of a Mayan city, where the bloodthirsty gods await.

While the movie can be aptly described, in a word, as brutal, “Apocalypto” begins with some primal high jinks. It is a welcome and rare tone in the midst of a barbaric setting. Unnerving comedy also shows up, to an extent, with the oh-so-frequent sightings of ass cheeks. I swear you can find more booties here than in a hip hop video, and they are mostly of men. Shudder. Let’s just leave those visions of behinds behind, shall we? Once the village raid scene occurs, the movie, from then on, is relentless in its full-bloodied savagery. The film runs as a creative exercise in inflicting human pain, both physical and emotional. While this exercise is undeniably shocking and grotesque, the excess of torture is more than I would like to stomach. At least, Gibson never displays excruciating agony in a senseless and lurid manner, as opposed to the gory crop of slasher flicks. In “Apocalypto,” pain is plain pain and not degraded as some form of entertainment for sickos.

The best part of the movie is its thrilling third act, set off by an omen of almost-inexplicable events. Here is where Gibson displays his technical talent in directing action sequences. The pacing is heart-beating brisk and the camera moves as agile as a jaguar in a jungle. The cinematography felt wrong though, as if it’s too pristine and professional looking. It needed either dirtier-earthier visuals or a majestic outlook a la Terrence Mallick’s “ The New World.” Still, regardless of the film’s defects, “Apocalypto” is an unforgettable film that is bold enough to bring us a new cinematic world. In that respect, I guess it’s a refreshing film to feel good about.

Grade: B+

Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Carlos Emilio Baez, Ramirez Amilcar, Israel Contreras, and Israel Rios
Screenplay by
Mel Gibson
Farhad Safinia
Directed by
Mel Gibson
Rated R for sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images