Comic genius Larry Gelbart's satirical, made-for-HBO meditation on truth vs. fiction infuses some life into the anemic biopic formula. In 1914, the Mutual Film Corporation agrees to pay Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa (Antonio Banderas) exclusive film rights to his exploits and the wily guerilla leader readily agrees: Not only does he need money to finance his revolution, but he knows the value of good publicity. Mutual mogul Harry Aitken (Jim Broadbent) dispatches his nephew, Frank Thayer (Eion Bailey), to Mexico with a skeleton crew. Aitkin feels an unexpected kinship with the charismatic Villa, enhanced by his encounters with ennobled peons and transplanted Yankees committed to Villa's cause. The newsreel he sends back to Mutual's is such a grabber that it gives Frank gets a brainstorm: Mutual should shoot Pancho Villa's biography, starring the great leader as his older self. Villa, busily robbing the rich, initially resists the proposal. But after mulling over Frank’s proposal, Villa realizes that favorable propaganda could counterbalance the harsh justice he's afforded foreigners like British rancher William Benton (Anthony Head), especially since newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who has substantial investments in Mexico, is baying for American military intervention. In the midst of overthrowing the Mexican government, Villa is won over by movie star Raoul Walsh (Kyle Chander), who's slated to portray Villa's younger self. Frank begins filming his version of Villa's life; when Villa's troops gallop towards a key victory, Frank's crew covers the event so the real scenes can be incorporated into the studio’s scripted narrative. Frank's growing disillusionment with the ruthless side of Villa's nature drives a wedge into their friendship, but Frank's dewy-eyed version of Villa's career appeals to American audiences and strikes a chord that sways US foreign policy. The rest is history... and myth. Gelbart's ambitiousepic about the show biz art of retouching – specifically the white-washing of Villa -- is especially apt in the age of "reality" television, even if the black comedy sometimes gets in the way of the panoramic sweep, and vice versa.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: NR
- Review: Comic genius Larry Gelbart's satirical, made-for-HBO meditation on truth vs. fiction infuses some life into the anemic biopic formula. In 1914, the Mutual Film Corporation agrees to pay Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa (Antonio Banderas) exclusive film r… (more)