Action! Excitement! Romance! Comedy! Revenge! Honor! Crime! Heroes! Heroines! Villains! (Enough!) Yes, all of these live in one film, from Trimark Pictures… The Mask of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson and Matt Letscher.
Set in California in the late 1800's, this film tells a tale of fiction mixed in with just enough legitimate history to make it compelling. The story follows the exploits of two young boys, brothers, who assist the legendary champion of the people, Zorro, one day near the end of the villainous Don Rafael Montero's (played by Stuart Wilson) reign. The boys grow up to be bandits, amusing bandits mind you, but fairly successful ones, until the run afoul of an American Civil War soldier, Captain Harrison Love (played by Matt Letscher) who deals some harsh justice to the bandits, and only Banderas escapes.
Found by an aged and recently escaped Zorro, he is shamed, cajoled, and eventually trained to be the next freedom fighter for the oppressed masses of the old southwest. His head is turned, however, by Rafael's daughter, Elena Montero (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who become the fixation of his affection and attention. In the end, good wins out, but not without sacrifice, giving us a truly wonderful re-telling of the old legend, with the standard contemporary moral twist. Not since the days of Will Hayes (in the 1930 & 40's) have we seen so much attention paid to the "traditional moral ideals" of America in film… but I digress.
Hopkins, as the aged Zorro, gives a wonderful performance. You do not notice that his accent is English and not Spanish, so eloquently are his words spoken and his actions displayed. Banderas is surprisingly good in this role, one which called for him to be both charming and humorous, both a romantic and action leading man. I've not been overly impressed with Antonio Banderas before, but this film has caused me to rethink that position. Zeta-Jones is a phenomenal beauty and talent, and her face could launch more than a thousand ships. Her dark eyes and fiery temperament are sultry and exotic in their own way, enhanced all the more by her real-life skill in both fencing and dance. So, when you see her, and say to yourself "Is that really her doing all that sword-fighting?" you can rest assured: It is. (Interesting piece of trivia: Both Hopkins and Zeta-Jones are from Wales. Weird, huh?)
The villainous cast is good also, if a bit under-displayed and under-emphasized. Wilson, as the evil, scheming Don Rafael, is your typical bad guy, with just enough of a heart to leave you unable to completely hate him. Letscher, as Captain Love, however, is more than icily efficient in his killing, and unsettlingly psychotic in his nature. He more than fills the void left by Wilson's portrayal of Rafael.
Overall, this one is so much fun, I'll be seeing it again. There are a few technical glitches that you may or may not notice (they're small), and the movie jerks back and forth between action and romance, but it is a stunningly gorgeous visual piece of cinematic confection, and the cinematography deserves an Academy Award Nomination.
I give this film an A-. Although the villain doesn't seem worthy of the attention of both Banderas and Hopkins, it's worthy of your hard-earned dollar on a full price ticket.