The Heavy-Handed Message of 'Machete'

September 3rd, 2010 12:00 AM

For all its gore, nudity and bad language, the new shoot-'em-up film “Machete” does have a message: immigration laws are unjust and the folks who want to enforce them are violent racists.

This report contains spoilers.

The film tells the story of ex-Mexican-federale Machete, played by Danny Trejo. Machete, exiled to the United States after his wife is murdered in a betrayal by a Mexican drug lord (Steven Segal), finds himself caught up in a staged assassination attempt against anti-immigrant State Senator John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro). The attempt was staged by McLaughlin's staff to gain him sympathy support.

As it turns out, the Mexican drug lord who is funding the senator's reelection campaign – he wants a border fence built to eliminate competition – is the very same one who murdered Machete's wife and ran him out of Mexico. Machete embarks on a bloody mission of revenge to punish those who crossed him.

Almost everyone is a bad guy.

McLaughlin is a self-interested politician, willing to take the most politically expedient position. His aide, Booth (Jeff Fahey), justifies taking drug lord money to support a pro-border fence candidate because an open border is “bad for business.” When a priest (Cheech Marin) asks if he really hates Mexicans so much he'd be involved in the plot, Booth declares, “No, Padre, I hate declining profits that much.”

In addition to funding McLaughlin's re-election campaign, the drug lord also funds the vigilante border patrol to cut down – or gun down – on competition in the absence of a border fence.

While they take the money, the vigilantes are motivated by racism. They are depicted early on shooting and killing Mexicans attempting to cross the border illegally – including a pregnant woman. After the convoluted connections unravel and numerous betrayals are discovered, the film boils down to a gunfight between the vigilantes and illegal immigrants. There is no clear winner, except the hero Machete, of course.

The only ones not depicted in a negative light are the illegal immigrants, who instead are characterized as victims of everyone from the drug lord to the politicians to the racist vigilante border patrols. Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a food truck operator who also leads the immigrant-smuggling Network, insists that illegal immigrants should be given sympathy because “people risk everything to be here.”

But it's Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Sartana (Jessica Alba) who serves as the film's overbearing message-deliverer. After seeing the error of her ways, as it were, Sartana declares that “there's the law and there's what's right” and “if they don't offer us justice, then they are not laws.” She rallies day laborers to participate in the film's climactic fight by shouting that the men who wrote laws designed to keep Mexicans down “deserve to be cut down.”

While Americans who oppose illegal immigration will undoubtedly take offense at the way they're satirized by writer-director Robert Rodriguez, plenty of others will be offended as well, including Catholics. Marin's priest character swears, records his confessional sessions, and is eventually crucified on a cross in his church.

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