Why We Need Machete – The Movie And The Man

Why We Need Machete – The Movie And The Man

Revenge is the central theme of a lot of films – Westerns in particular – and the reason they are so popular is because they touch something deep within humanity.

It’s the inherent desire for justice.

We like to get our fix via film because it’s too haphazard an unreliable in real life.  We can’t count on justice unless other variables come into play such as having a better lawyer on the day or a lot of cash so justice can be bought.

Life isn’t fair.  Bill Gates told us that.  I don’t know how he knows but he is right.

Life is a series of haphazard events that occur largely due to cause-and-effect but not due to any morality or innate fairness.  People who make that lame claim that ‘everything happens for a reason’ haven’t figured out that the human instinct to assign meaning retrospectively is what gives meaning to past events.  Life, as it happens, is meaningless in the big scheme of things.  We have the choice to make it meaningful.  It isn’t meaningful in and of itself.

The truth is – people don’t always get what they deserve and karma (if it indeed exists) is irregularly applied.  Notice how good guys sometimes finish last?  And some actors get awards they don’t deserve. 

Crime does pay – there’s never been any question of that because the myriad of rich criminals proves it.  The questions that are more relevant are ones such as: how long does crime pay for?  And:  how well?

So it was very exciting to see Danny Trejo get a good solid lead role in Machete.  He’s a strong actor with a hell of a face and physique.  He makes support roles memorable.  But like David Morse and Steve Buscemi, you know his face but not his name.  As film expert Chris Murray says – he’s ‘that guy’ – the guy you don’t know but you do.

Trejo has never really had top billing with any great success.  And he rarely gets the girl.  Even in Con Air where he played a serial rapist, he didn’t get the girl because Nic Cage saved her (which under the circumstances was a good thing).

But in Machete Trejo doesn’t just get the girl – he gets all the girls.  And it was heart-warming to see.  He’s kind of like an organic Mexican Terminator and has that unrelenting drive of the Chigurh in No Country For Old Men – it’s like he’s had passion replaced with programming.

Machete is the latest film from Robert Rodriguez.  He’s been described as the Mexican Tarantino.  Machete is described as a Mexploitation movie.

In a nutshell, it tells the story of a highly skilled operative who gets set up in a political assassination plot and has to clear his name.  Other friends and foes include a racist senator (Robert de Niro who looks like the KFC dude Colonel Sanders); a female version of Ché Guevara called She (Michelle Rodriguez); an immigration official (Jessica Alba); a drug king pin (a tubby Steven Seagal); the padre (Cheech Marin); a disobedient daughter (Lindsay Lohan who must have thought it was a documentary) and even Don Johnson gets a gig.

The issue that makes this movie so much more than a B grade exploitation film, is that it addresses the real issue of US racism and denial of basic human rights as well as the price America pays for their propaganda about being the land of the free and the brave where anyone can make a whole lot of capitalist cashola with scant regard for how they do it.  There is some terrific irony found in the tools of trades illegal immigrants use in their blue collar jobs in the US because in Machete, they are the tools of that other cleaning enterprise – the criminal cleaning business of wiping people out.  In real life, Mexicans might be taking out the trash for US employers.  In Machete, the main Mexican is taking out the human trash – with extreme prejudice.

There’s nothing like a sharp machete to shave some human crud off the face of the Earth!

One of the fun things about this film is the revival of the Six Million Dollar Man sound effect of his bionic body parts in action.  Anyone familiar with the TV show knows the clanging staccato echoey metallic sound I mean.

It’s a lavish, lusty production.  It’s not torture porn but it is action porn.  And there’s an escape from a building using the internal organ of a human that will go down in cinema history.  I’ve only ever seen this in an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon.  It is gruesome comedy at its B grade best.

The music by Chignon (Spanish for ‘Bad Ass’) is just mesmerizing to the ears – that’s Rodriguez’s band and Tarantino got Rodriguez to score Kill Bill Vol 2 with it.

There’s a scene reminiscent of the final shoot-out in Scarface and there’s an Eva Peron moment as well as a possible passing nod to the assassination of JFK.

Another plus is it’s a car lovers wet dream.  I’m talking about real cars – muscle autos and hot rods with custom paint jobs and deeply sexy bodies that you just want to be inside and drive… [sigh]

Back to Danny Trejo for moment.  I see beyond his big scary appearance.  In fact, I’d feel safe with a guy like him around.  His past is etched into his body – a chunk of time in jail then a long time counseling troubled youth about drugs and crime shows he’s spent more time caring than scaring.

He is a simple paradox – a great example of an incredible philanthropic soul housed in a misanthropic body.  The wonderful thing is the devoted fan base he’s generated without being an A list star.

When Rodriguez made the fake Machete trailer for Grindhouse and it became a hit with requests for the film to be made, Trejo learned how deeply his fans were committed.

He says, ‘when I was in England a few years ago, I was stopped by these guys who had tattoos of the character Machete on their backs.  When I signed my name [above their tattoos], they had my signature tattooed as well.’
(quoted from the Machete production notes 2011)

Now that’s love.  And it softens my cynical old heart like a metal mallet does to a pound of steak.

Machete is fun to see on the big screen and despite the howls of protest I can already hear from film purists – I would love to see it in 3D.

And while I’m out on a limb here, I’ll also say I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Maybe Danny Trejo has his franchise.

Now I guess it’s time I got that tattoo.