Get the Gringo - movie reviewSay what you want about Mel Gibson (and there’s an awful lot to be said…a lot of it awful), but props for sticking himself in a clown mask.
That’s the first image we see of Gibson in Get the Gringo, and it works a treat: here’s art imitating the life of a crazy man (or the publicly perceived one at least). Add to that the fact Gibson is playing a chain-smoking, aggressively foul-mouthed career criminal, and the pact he’s making with his audience is clear: say what (the fuck) you want about me; I mean to entertain.
And entertain he does, for those willing to go along for the ride. Originally called How I Spent My Summer Vacation – which accounts for the film’s droll, ‘Dear Mom’ narration - Get the Gringo sees Gibson as nameless, fingerprint-free grifter who winds up in a Mexican prison after his escape across the boarder goes awry, along with his bags full of recently robbed cash. Crooked Federales relieve Gibson (he’s credited as Driver, but let’s not besmirch Ryan Gosling and just stick with Gibson) of his loot and stick him a jail called El Pueblito, meaning ‘Little Town,’ though it’s better described as a Dante circle of hell – or, as Gibson suggests: “the worlds most fucked up mall.” An horrific ghetto of prisoners and their families living amongst bars and meth labs, it’s more chilling to find out this dystopia was based on an actual prison outside Tijuana. Built in 1956 as an experiment in ‘humane imprisonment’, it was closed in 2002 due to aforementioned Dante hellishness.
In any case the jail makes a cracking setting for a film. As Gibson stalks around, learning the lay of the land and plotting a jailbreak to reclaim his cash, he strikes up an oddball friendship with a 10-year-old kid, (Kevin Hernandez) who ingratiates himself by constantly trying to bum cigarettes. But the kid also proves to have keen eyes, and the inside scoop on the prison’s king pin (Peter Stormare); information that ultimately inveigles our consummate anti-hero further in the kid and his mum’s (Dolores Heredia) threatened lives.
There’s another thing you can give Gibson props for: putting his money where his (foul) mouth is. He produced and co-wrote this screenplay that rollicks on at an energetic pace, managing to mix crime caper with spaghetti-western elements as well as lashings of Tarantino-esque nihilism. In the director’s chair is first time helmer Adrian Grunberg, who earned his stripes as Gibson’s personal assistant before stepping up to assistant director on Apocalypto. Together Grunberg and Gibson make a meal of the action sequences, the thoroughly black and terrifically non-pc humour, before simply going to town on an outlandish con job. If the tone seems to wax and wane, along with Gibson’s fun but patchy narration, it’s probably because there’s an inherent discord with throwing a mother and child in amongst all that carnage. Then again, Get the Gringo can definitely be filed under ‘Mexploitation cinema’ (remember Machete?), so the amped violence well and truly goes with the territory.
Fans of ‘action-Mel’, a la Lethal Weapon, Mad Max and Ransom will find this a welcome return to form. For there’s no doubting Gibson is a bona fide screen presence: those big baby blues still effortlessly draw your eye, and in action scenes he looks like a proverbial pig in muck. So if Jodie Foster’s polarising The Beaver tapped into Gibson’s psychological struggles, then Get the Gringo simply embraces the crazy and turns it into some good ol’ pulpy fun.
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