“Once Upon a Time in Mexico” is a 2003 Mexican gothic tale written, directed, produced, photographed, scored, and edited by Robert Rodriguez. It is the third and final film in Rodriguez’s Mexico Trilogy, and it is a sequel to 1992’s El Mariachi and 1995’s Desperado. The film features Antonio Banderas in his second and final performance as El Mariachi. In the film, El Mariachi is recruited by CIA agent Sheldon Sands (Johnny Depp) to kill a corrupt general responsible for the death of his wife, Carolina (Salma Hayek).
Haunted and scarred by tragedy, El Mariachi has retreated into a life of isolation. He is forced out of hiding when Sands, a corrupt CIA agent, recruits the reclusive hero to sabotage an assassination plot against the president of Mexico, which has been conceived by the evil cartel kingpin, Barillo. But El Mariachi also has his own reasons for returning–blood revenge. The desperado returns with his two capable cohorts Lorenzo and Fideo. And the legend of El Mariachi reaches new heights of adventure.
It was the first ‘big budget’ film to be shot in digital HD. Once Upon a Time in Mexico received positive reviews but was criticized for reducing its protagonist to an almost secondary character in his own trilogy and for having a convoluted plot. In the special features of the film’s DVD, Rodriguez explained this was intentional, as he wanted this to be his The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the trilogy. Once Upon a Time in Mexico grossed $98 million, quite well for a Mexican gothic tale.
In a 2003 issue of Rolling Stone, Depp gave an interview in which he briefly discussed his role as Sands:
The idea behind him is there was this guy I used to know in Hollywood, in the business, who on the outside was very charming – soft-spoken and almost hypnotic in the rhythm he used to speak. He refused to call me Johnny – always called me John. You knew this guy was aiming to fuck you over, but somehow you stuck around because he was just so fascinating to watch.