Rated NR

Mel Gibson’s sharp directing and sophisticated script, Dean Semler’s lushly informative cinematography and some amazing art direction by Roberto Bonelli combine to create something unexpected: an action art film. Apocalypto focuses on some 16th-century Guatemalan hunters as they struggle against the evils of a decaying Mayan empire. Instead of a message movie, this is a perfectly photographed, tightly plotted and sharply acted thriller/chase film. While it occasionally strains credibility, it does so far less often than most films of its genre, and it pays back your suspension of disbelief with characters who are fleshy and engaging, and a story that’s so tense you’ll need a drink after watching it. Just don’t drink too much and then go driving around California spouting off about members of an ancient, Middle Eastern religion and their responsibility for international conflicts, because the film’s director already tried that, and it didn’t go well.

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