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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Writer / Director / Producer Mel Gibson And Writer/Co-Producer Farhad Safinia; Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary By Writer / Director / Producer Mel Gibson and Writer/Co-Producer Farhad Safinia; Becoming Mayan: Creating Apocalypto – Featurette.

MEL Gibson may have his detractors – especially in light of last year’s drink-drive incident – but there’s little doubting his ability to make courageous films. Or controversial ones.

Braveheart surprised many when it became an Oscar-winner in spite of several historical inaccuracies, and The Passion of the Christ became one of the highest-grossing films of all-time despite whipping up a religious backlash of almost Biblical proportions.

Apocalypto, his latest, looks set to continue the trend for marrying risky endeavour with box office gain.

It’s essentially a chase movie, and a gory one at that, which chronicles the final days of the Mayan civilization. Yet in typically ballsy fashion, it features a cast of unknowns and dialogue in the ancient Mayan dialect of Yucatec (a dead language).

Its US release was almost overshadowed by the tabloid frenzy surrounding Gibson’s drunken tirade, while indigenous members of the Mayan culture have accused the filmmaker of depicting them as “savages”. Some have even referred to it as “racist”.

And yet Apocalypto rose above such controversy to hit the top spot at the US box office and earn glowing reviews from the American press.

It’s no more than the film deserves given its ability to entertain in spite of its failings.

Rudy Youngblood stas as young Mayan hunter Jaguar Paw who lives in peace with his wife and son in the Mesoamerican rainforest.

After a savage attack by Holcane warriors that decimates his village, Jaguar Paw is dragged to the Mayan capital to be offered as a human sacrifice, leaving his pregnant wife and child hidden in a cave and unable to escape.

Against impossible odds, Jaguar manages to escape and faces a race against time to save the ones he loves…

Gibson’s film thrusts viewers into the action from the outset and barely lets up throughout. It’s breathtakingly brutal but heart-poundingly exciting, marking the director out as a filmmaker of exceptional skill.

The extended chase sequence, in particular, is an uncompromising affair that features one jaw-dropping feat after another.

Yet for all of its action, adventure and violence, the film does contain a strong emotional pull as Jaguar races to save his family. It’s this, together with the little insights Gibson affords into Mayan culture and the obvious comparisons the film has with the current situation in Iraq, that makes it so worth investing time in. Viewers will care for the principal characters.

On the down side, the violence is likely to offend and even sicken some, especially during the early razing of the village and the sacrifices that follow (in one bravura sequence, Gibson delivers us a shot from the point of view of a bouncing severed head, while hearts are ripped from chests with apparent glee).

Such sequences only lend weight to claims that the director tends to enjoy sadism a little too much, even at the expense of affording viewers a greater insight into the Mayan culture. Rather than celebrate any of their achievements, Apocalypto sometimes feels like its wallowing in their savagery.

But then Gibson isn’t known for his sensitivity or subtlety and has set about creating a ferocious action-adventure that should leave viewers gasping for breath.

For those with the stomach to bear it, Apocalypto is a rip-roaring experience that exhilarates, educates and hugely entertains. So, pick up the chase…

Read our interview with Mel Gibson

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Certificate: 18
Running time: 2hrs 18mins