Mexican Moon is an interesting piece of stripped-down, DIY filmmaking. Director, star, and writer Chris Zuhdi (he co-wrote the screenplay with Omar Zuhdi) also served as the film’s cinematographer, producer, and editor, suggesting a few things about the production. The most obvious is the minuscule budget the filmmaker had to work with. Still, based on how every shot is framed, it’s fair to assume Zuhdi made his movie over the past year to stay productive and creative when it was nearly impossible to work in the entertainment industry. If so, the film succeeds as a product of on-the-fly moviemaking.
Zuhdi plays Sonny Tripono, a Vietnam veteran who seems aloof to the world around him. He’s a man of few words, just trying to get by in his day-to-day life. But, after Sonny loses his job at a local garage, his bills start piling up, and phone calls start coming through about late rent and outstanding car payments. He knows he needs money and fast but can’t seem to find work. Eventually, Sonny tangles with a drug cartel over a large, hidden sum of money.
“…Sonny tangles with a drug cartel over a large, hidden sum of money.”
Mexican Moon is a crime-thriller, and Zuhdi is not shy about his inspirations. While it doesn’t offer the same thrills of No Country for Old Men, some of that 2007 film’s DNA can be found in this story. What the screenplay does right is not lean into the genre trappings and create a disposable movie filled with gratuitous violence. Blood is eventually spilled, but the plot is much more deliberately paced than its description of man vs. drug cartel would suggest. The threat of the cartel isn’t front-and-center either, but you can always feel it creeping around the edges. Showdowns are inevitable, but sometimes what is left not shown can be most effective. The director strikes that balance through most of the movie, which increases the effectiveness of the payoff.
The film clocks in around 100 minutes, which feels about 20 minutes too long, and tighter editing could only benefit the subtle unease. It lags in spots, but Zuhdi remains true to his resources and never aims to exceed what was available to him, nor does ramp up violence when unnecessary. Knowing what you have to work with is the best way for a director to approach the screenplay they are about to shoot.
There’s an interesting depth at play here about a veteran’s ability to find work after serving. The movie is set in Texas in 1980, and it becomes clear the cartel is causing jobs to dry up. Everyone wants to comment upon Sonny’s service but can’t seem to make room for him in their establishments. It’s an extreme, made-for-movies example of what he resorts to for financial assistance, but Mexican Moon clearly has more on its mind than your average thriller.
"…has more on its mind than your average thriller."