As a Western fan, it’s hard not to enjoy this film. I mean, when Raoul Walsh is introduced as a character halfway through I smiled with glee. Ultimately, it’s about filmmaking as much as it is about Western history and the titular character.
Pancho Villa is played with charisma and an enormous about of energy by Antonio Banderas. The actor delivers one of his best performance and is certainly the most memorable aspect of the movie. He’s supported by an ensemble who deliver solid if unremarkable results, except for an against-type casting of Alan Arkin as a mercenary (surprisingly it works very well). Bruce Beresford does a craftsman’s job here, handling the action scenes with excellence and some of the more challenging depictions of Villa with complexity.
However, the script they’re all working with just doesn’t seem to come together. It never gets a firm handle on its protagonist, played by Eion Bailey, the lens through which all of the story’s events are seen. His romance with a movie star is a nice subplot that gets short-changed in the final act. His relationship with Villa is good but the movie is too busy doing all kinds of things to give it the time it really deserves. If you compare Bailey’s journey to that of Brad Johnson’s character in the sweeping Rough Riders, there is a deficit here.
It’s a film worth seeing that doesn’t quite add up to what it could have been.
Watched on HBO Max.