*** out of ****
With this Latin spin on the American western, Gael García Bernal cements himself as one of today’s most overtly political actors. He’s portrayed Che Guevara, human rights activist Maziar Bahari, and now…well, the Amazon rainforest itself. If you haven’t heard, it’s kind of endangered, and when Mother Nature gets pissed she spits out shirtless movie stars from rivers to exact revenge on evil agribusiness.
As you can tell, this is not as dour a film as most reviews have made it out to be. At times it’s actually pretty tongue-in-cheek. When Kai, the Mysterious Outsider (Bernal), faces off with mercenaries for the Climactic Showdown, he actually raises a cowboy bandana over his mouth and nose, acknowledging every shootout in the western genre that came before. This film is not riding on originality, but on mastery of that genre.
Peppered with just enough dialogue to make printing the script worth the ink, it’s fair to say Ardor doesn’t overreach. It’s positively stuffed with intense close-ups, though, along with nicely composed nature shots and, oh yeah, gore. Like Gosling in Drive, our silent protagonist is as violent as he is mysterious, stringing up booby traps in the jungle and spearing bad guys. Also he’s great in bed. What more do you want, people?
On second thought, maybe a little more character development wouldn’t hurt. The romance between Kai and Vania (Alice Braga), the woman whose land he’s fighting for, feels more like a plot necessity than anything else; but westerns aren’t famous for their gripping love stories, so who’s surprised? This is first and foremost an allegory about eco-conservation, so if you’re willing to let the finer details slide and just enjoy the scenery, you’re in for a fun trip.