Get the Gringo
Credits: Directed by Adrian Grunberg and starring Peter Stormare, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Mel Gibson, Scott Cohen, Patrick Bauchau, Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Jesús Ochoa, Kevin Hernandez, Tenoch Huerta, Bob Gunton, Dean Norris, Aaron Cohen, Sofía Sisniega and Denise Gossett.
Details: (MA15+), 95 mins, In Cinemas 31 May 2012, United States, English
Synopsis: Driver (Mel Gibson) is a career criminal, who during a high-speed car chase with the U.S. Border Patrol with a bleeding body in his back seat, crashes into the border wall as he tries to escape. He survives, only to be arrested by the Mexican authorities and placed inside a hard-core prison where he enters the strange and dangerous world of 'El Pueblito'. There, he finds unlikely survival guidance from a 9-year-old kid who shows him the ropes.
B-movie caper rises above its cliché elements.
For obvious reasons, it’s hard for reviewers to approach Mel Gibson’s films in a genuinely disinterested manner these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort.
It’s true The Beaver, directed by his good friend Jodie Foster, was an awkward misfire but go back a little further and I defy anyone who appreciates great screen action to deny the cinematic virtuosity on display in the Gibson-directed Apocalypto. Many critics at the time kind of acknowledged this much but seemed embarrassed about admitting it; entirely understandable, perhaps, but not helpful in assessing the film’s legacy. Since when did worthwhile art have to come only from nice guys?
Not that Mexican-set prison movie Get the Gringo – surprisingly released direct to DVD in the US but getting cinema release in Australia – is really art with a capital ‘A’. It’s trashy, pulp crime material elevated into watchable entertainment by the spunk that’s gone into its making. While Gibson didn’t direct, it’s clearly one of his more personal projects. The director, Adrian Grunberg, was first assistant director on Apocalypto, and Gibson serves as not only one of the three producers but also one of its trio of co-writers.
The film opens with a car chase through the Texan desert in which Gibson’s getaway vehicle tries to elude the US cops on his tail by smashing through the barrier into Mexico (in slo-mo – a feature which soon proves to be Grunberg’s biggest weakness). Gibson’s Driver (just Driver, like Ryan Gosling in the superior Drive) ends up in the hands of Mexican cops, who want to get their hands on his bank haul and quickly toss him into the slammer.
This is no conventional jail, but a sprawling, veritable, mostly open-air shanty-town named El Pueblito full of markets and stalls dealing with goods both legal and illegal (drugs; prostitutes). Driver befriends a young kid (Kevin Hernandez) who teaches him how to keep his head above water before revealing the reason for his own survival – the prison kingpin wants his liver and both share a rare blood-type. Cue bizarre plot machinations including a climactic sequence involving a liver transplant operation.
With its tough-guy ‘funny’ dialogue and over-dependence on slow motion, much of the film is clichéd, but in El Pueblito it has one major element that makes it fascinatingly unique. Grunberg’s skill as a director in moving through space and filling the frame with detail and tension quickly emerges – there’s hardly a single shot that isn’t dynamically realised. (The film is clearly aided by detailed production design and the budget to realise it.) This, added to Gibson’s hangdog presence (the lines etched in his face adding undeniable character) and the authentic performances of Hernandez as the kid and Dolores Heredia, who plays his mother, give the film a considerable kick.
If there’s a film in Gibson’s canon it reminded me of, it’s 1999’s Payback, a crime tale kicked into the gutter by 99% of the world’s critics on account of its daring to be a remake of an acknowledged masterpiece: John Boorman’s Point Blank. If you put the comparisons aside, those assessments look a bit off-kilter, because Payback, while admittedly a minor film, had its own pleasures, including a glorious gallery of character actors including William Devane and Kris Kristofferson.
Get the Gringo has the same kind of B-grade appeal but with a sense of fun in place of the earlier film’s angst – the title alone tells you it’s not intended to be taken entirely seriously. (Gibson is introduced in scene one wearing a clown’s mask, for lord’s sake.) If you want a lean-back-into-the-sofa with-a-pizza movie when you can’t be bothered with anything taxing, this is okay.
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