FILM REVIEW — Easy to cheer for “Cassandro”
Published 12:02 am Friday, September 22, 2023
Amazon Prime Studios
Directed by Roger Ross Williams
Starring Gael García Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla de la Rosa, Bad Bunny, Raúl Castillo y El Hijo del Santo
There are a whole lot of movies that run too long these days because the filmmakers can’t figure out how to tell their stories in a clear and concise manner. That being said, I do occasionally run into a movie that might have benefitted from taking a bit more time to explore its subject.
Case in point, “Cassandro” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. This is a good biography about a lucha libre wrestler that features a superb central performance, nice production values and a lot of feel-good sentimentality.
Yet, despite my general enjoyment the movie, I wish the filmmakers would have spent a bit more time exploring what really motivated this character. If we’d been given a deeper look under the fighter’s skin, perhaps “Cassandro” might have gone from good to great.
Gael García Bernal stars as Saúl, a young man working as a lucha libre fighter in El Paso in the 1990s. He’s been cast as the fighter who will always be beaten by his opponents.
The problem is Saúl wants to win, so he reinvents himself as Cassandro, the flamboyant exótico fighter who will come to be known worldwide as the “Liberace of Lucha Libre.”
By one measure, “Cassandro” tells the story of this real-life fighter’s rise to fame and fortune. The sports story base gives the audience plenty of reasons to cheer, but it’s Bernal’s performance that makes me sit up and applaud.
He begins by playing Saúl as a rudderless kid, only finding joy in his relationship with his mother and an affair with a closeted married man. That all changes when Saúl decides to fight as an exótico.
Slowly, Bernal fills his character with an infectious joie de vivre that makes this movie so appealing.
I was also quite taken with several other characters in this movie, particularly Perla de la Rosa, playing his mother who adores her son, but also blames him as the cause of the breakup with his father. It’s a messy and nuanced performance that is very moving.
I’m also a big fan of the performances by Roberta Colindrez, playing Saúl’s trainer-turned-best friend, Raúl Castillo as his closeted lover, and none other than Hijo de Santo playing himself, the legendary Mexican fighter who gives Cassandro his big break.
I also found the 1990s production design to be spot on. The film feels like it was recorded on an old camcorder, which is great for those of us with nostalgic memories of the time.
Yet despite all of these positives, my major critique of this movie falls on the screenplay. All of Cassandro’s successes come too easily, and I would have better appreciated his triumphs had I seen more of his struggles.
The film offers whispers about the other fighters being resentful of his rise, as well as subplots featuring his shady promoter and his deadbeat father, but then it quickly abandons these elements in order to give us another moment of Cassandro’s success.
It happens so quickly, and so easily, that it doesn’t always ring true.
Perhaps a few more scenes of struggle would have put this movie over the top for me. But despite this shortcoming, I still found myself cheering loudly for “Cassandro” and its wonderful performances. Perhaps most telling, my interest was piqued enough to go online and learn more about this intriguing wrestler.
Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Port Arthur Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.