Far be it from me to advocate bad behavior but, as your humble critic, I advise you to buy a bottle of tequila if you give this movie a chance or decide to watch it again. The cheaper the better. Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is many things; surreal and morbid travelogue, drunken road trip movie, hallucinatory take on its times, and a character study of a man with nothing left to lose and spiraling into darkness. Those searching for cheerful cinema should look elsewhere. Those looking for family oriented fare should run and not look back.
Peckinpah’s renegade credentials are beyond dispute at this point. His elegiac Ride the High Country, featuring western stalwarts Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in the final major work onscreen, feels like finishing school now for Peckinpah, a salutatory goodbye to tradition spiked with Peckinpah’s auteur vision and rough-hewn personality. The Wild Bunch, his late 60’s tour de force, featured William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, and Warren Oates in what still rates as one of the Western genre’s finest moments. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Oates’ second turn with Peckinpah, gives the perpetually bedraggled Oates one of his key starring roles, but Oates is doomed to play second fiddle to his cargo. A severed head in a sack.
Oates’ character, a dissolute American scraping by via any means necessary in late 20th century Mexico, accepts a job transporting a rotting head to a Mexican crime lord. Consequences, naturally, make this a much more complicated job. It’s a woozy movie, filmed in overheated hues, and Oates’ character seems to move through the movie’s narrative with a gradually gathering sense of desperation and hysteria.
There’s a sense of this movie being a sort of Easy Rider tumbling into utter madness. This is particularly accentuated by the cameo appearance of singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson in a violent scene coming off as a dangerous take on the era’s ethos. Someone, in Peckinpah’s world, is always ready to take advantage of peace and free love for their own devices and desires. The movie’s ending is a little predictable, if you’re familiar with Peckinpah’s work, but nonetheless conforms to the movie’s overall mood. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia comes across like an extended, reality-distorting binge drunk and the smell of mescal practically wafts off the screen.