The Mask Of Zorro
Rating -

Adventure (US); 1998; Rated PG-13; 136 Min.

Antonio Banderas: Alejandro Murrieta
Anthony Hopkins: Don Diego de la Vega
Catherine Zeta-Jones: Elena
Stuart Wilson: Don Rafael Montero
Matthew Letscher: Captain Harrison Love
Maury Chaykin: Prison Warden
Tony Amendola: Don Luiz
Pedro Armendáriz Jr.: Don Pedro
L.Q. Jones: Three-Fingered Jack
William Marquez: Fray Felipe
José Pérez: Corporal Armando Garcia
Victor Rivers: Joaquin Murrietta

Produced by Doug Claybourne, David Foster, John Gertz, Laurie MacDonald, Tava R. Maloy, Walter F. Parkes and Steven Spielberg; Directed by Martin Campbell; Screenwritten by Randall Jahnson, John Eskow, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, David S. Ward

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"The Mask Of Zorro" begins with scenes depicted in the life of Don Diego de la Vega, played by Anthony Hopkins, to whom most of his followers recognize as the legendary "Zorro," a man they cheer on as the outlaw for the people. He swings on ropes across the crowd, rescues innocent bystanders on an execution block, and rides his noble horse to the top of a stairway in the city, where the crowd roars in applause as he is silhouetted in the sunlight. He then sets off, leaving behind a silver chain with multiple circles on it as a momento to a young boy and his brother.

These are among the most spectacular shots ever captured in film. Not only do they appropriately setup the masterpiece movie that follows, but they also demonstrate the free-flowing camera shots that can be tackled within some of the most wonderful films ever made, most recently including "Boogie Nights" and "GoodFellas."

Then we learn of the movie's purpose. It begins solely about de la Vega, who, after vowing to hang his Zorro mask up after years of being a hidden outlaw, suddenly loses everything he has to his archenemy Don Rafael Montero, who quickly learns of de la Vega's secret guise, and has him arrested and taken off into the night. Rafael takes Diego's infant daughter, along with the guilt of killing Diego's wife in front of his own eyes.

Years later, after Spain has banished Rafael from their court, he returns to southern California, from where the Zorro legend was last seen. There, he supposedly learns that Diego had died in a jail cell, and that all of his past secrets are kept safe from Elena, Diego's true daughter, who has blossomed into Rafael's. But then we learn Diego is indeed alive, and has escaped from the prison from which he has remained for twenty years. Now, Diego has nothing; his wife, his child, his horse, and his home have all been taken from him, and he is just simply too old to masquerade as Zorro again.

Next scene: we meet Alejandro Murrieta and his brother, who are wanted criminals. When they are brought to the justice system by a fellow henchman who keeps his true relationship with the brothers a secret, they take down the soldiers and make off with the reward money. Halfway down the road, from where the brothers strung up the soldiers nude to a row of cactuses, they are confronted by a well-prepared group of soldiers who, in the end, kill Alejandro's brother, shoot the third henchman, and steel away from Alejandro everything he has left. When the leader of the soldier horde cuts of Alejandro's brother's head, they leave behind the all-familiar silver momento that Zorro gave two younger children when he was last seen twenty years ago.

Alejandro goes off into town and meets Diego, who is now old, crippled, and rather mysterious-looking. Diego sees the chain around Alejandro's neck, and instantly leaps to the man wearing it, claiming in memorable words "When the pupil is ready, the master will appear."

Diego trains Alejandro to take on the role of Zorro, who is needed after Don Rafael returns to California in attempts to buy it away from Mexico, secretly using gold dug up from the Mexican lands, and then destroying the mines and all of their slaves to cover up the evidence of such occurrences.

After Alejandro sets off in the Zorro guise, he meets Diego's daughter, Elena, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is enthralled with the masked outlaw to the point where it is nearly love at first site. She confesses breaking the fourth commandment to the church, only to not realize that she is confessing all of this to Zorro himself, who is hiding in this confession room from the law that is on his trail.

These two carry the screen together like Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn did years ago. They have great chemistry, precise passion, and wonderful development together. If you didn't know what Banderas and Zeta-Jones' real lives were like, you'd swear they could be a couple.

But the real show belongs to Anthony Hopkins, who has once again convinced us that he is not British. His voice, his tone, and his look are almost so real that even if you didn't know who he was, you'd think he was actually Latin.

There is hardly a moment in the film that is not either action-oriented or dialogue-heavy. Each of these scenes carry life and beauty in them, as we sit there and feel stunned over how well photographed the picture is. Within it's grandeur of story and action, the camera shots are absolutely spectacular. They stayed in my mind for days, providing the notion that perhaps, Hollywood for once was doing something with this pitiful genre.

They have done something truly unique with it; "The Mask Of Zorro" is an absolute masterpiece; a film where we can look at it and think "Hmmm. It's like 1939 all over again."

© 1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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