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Mask of Zorro

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mask of Zorro

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Martin Campbell
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 130 Minutes
Release Date: July 1998
Genres: Action, Romance

*Also starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Gitta Alpar, Maury Chaykin, Tony Amendola, Pedro Armendariz Jr.

Review by Walter Frith
3½ stars out of 4

The reason why the movie industry continues to set box office records every year is due to one thing: tradition. Motion pictures have not lost their way in telling stories that are set in the present while mixing them perfectly with stories from the past. Look at all of the films to win the Best Picture Oscar in the 1990's. Only one film, 'The Silence of the Lambs', is set in the present day and of all the films to win the award in the 1980's, only two, 'Ordinary People' and 'Rain Man', are set totally in the present day. People were fascinated to learn the story of 'Titanic' and while that film had a fictional backdrop, it still managed to put forward a harrowing climax, detailing the final hours of the great ship's demise. It has become the highest grossing film of all time and shares the most Oscars ever won, 11, with 1959's 'Ben-Hur'.

The only film I've ever seen that I really liked Antonio Banderas in was 1996's 'Evita'. Banderas didn't have a large enough part in 1993's 'Philadelphia' to really make an impact and he has found true stardom with 'The Mask of Zorro'. I was struck by the fact that in a recent interview with Banderas, he stated that he is the first Spanish actor to play the swashbuckling hero and that lends even more credibility to the part and in fact, the entire cast is excellent in a film that follows a Hollywood formula of good guys vs. bad guys and the film makes certain that there is a beautiful woman involved.

The film opens in 1821, and Don Diego De La Vega (Anthony Hopkins) wears the mask of Zorro, defender of Mexico, and battles the corrupt forces of Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson). Don Rafael has selected three innocent men from the town square to be executed, all for the sake of drawing Zorro out in public so his soldiers can kill him. The men are of course saved and the scene has enthralling energy and grand style as the hero shows up the villains but not all is pretty. As Don Rafael seeks out the true identity of Zorro later in the day, he finds it is Don Diego and in a terrible accident, Diego's wife is killed during his apprehension and Don Raphael takes the infant daughter of Don Diego away and claims her for himself and raises the little girl on his own. Don Diego returns some twenty years later after his time in prison, and his daughter is now a grown woman (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Don Diego seeks revenge against Don Rafael and a reunion with his daughter. He may have found it in Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas), a man who as a child along with his brother, saved Zorro's life. Murrieta's brother is cornered by Captain Harrison Love (Matt Letscher) and takes his own life instead of being captured and eventually tortured. Captain Love is working directly with Don Rafael in a gold mining plot swindle that will mean both their lives if they are exposed. Murietta as every reason to want the same revenge as Don Diego.

Banderas and Hopkins work well together in this film. Too old to truly be the dashing hero he once was, Hopkins trains Banderas to be the new generation of justice and eventually wear the mask of Zorro for his very own. My only complaint with the film is that it seemed that Banderas learned the art of Zorro's defence just a little too quickly and while eventually convincing, the film does balance this by showing him in battle at times being a little wet behind the ears with an aloof sense of duty in his first couple of tries.

Director Martin Campbell ('GoldenEye', 'No Escape') doesn't trivialize the characters for the sake of action and adventure. There is a good human story contained within the film and one of the movie's executive producers is Steven Spielberg and the old time historical significance in the film and the straight action scenes put me in mind at times of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. I was truly impressed with all members of the cast and the seasoned qualities of Anthony Hopkins are again diversified as he is the foundation of the film and continues to solidify his reputation as both a movie star and truly great actor.

'The Mask of Zorro' is a dazzling and highly entertaining movie and what a pleasure to watch a film that is completely loaded with action without any computerized special effects. If there are any in the film, they certainly don't need to be there as the film would have been capable of generating its own sense of wonder and tension without them.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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