‘Mad Mel’ is back!
The H-Bomb: A nameless career criminal (Mel Gibson) known only as the Driver (sounds oddly familiar) wrecks his getaway car on the Mexican side of the border and is collared by the local authorities. Since the policia in good old Mexico are so well known for being upright and honest, they steal Mel’s loot, the sum of which is around four million, and send him to a lovely little prison called “El Pueblito.”
Pueblito is Espanol for Little Town, and that’s exactly what this rather unusual jail is, a walled-in town where the inmates move around freely, and where, for the right price, they can buy cigarettes, booze, drugs, women, and even guns. As our hero puts it, this place is less like a prison and more like “the world’s shittiest mall.“ The upper echelon prisoners (the crime lords) can even have their wives and children come live with them in their own private residences.
Just about everything is allowed in this “prison.” Everything, except escape. The armed guards in towers will shoot down anyone who attempts to climb the fence surrounding the town. Like in any prison, escaping is frowned upon.
The Driver, being the gringo that he is, will especially have to watch his back, as he has already pissed off a few people in this place. He also has to worry about any goons who may come his way from the business man (a creepy but under-used Peter Stormare) he ripped off north of the border. He knows the names of the Mexican cops who pocketed his four million, so getting it back shouldn’t be too difficult . . . if only he could get out of this Goddamn little town.
Fortunately, the Driver does have a friend in this little slice of paradise, a young boy named, imaginatively, Kid (Kevin Hernandez), who has a special tie to the top gangster in the joint. What could that special tie be? Let’s just say the Kid has something the gangster wants, something I won’t give away here. He also has a hot Mama who the Driver, naturally, takes a liking to. If there’s one instinct this career crook has perfected, it’s survival, and he’s already figuring a way to spin this kid’s connection to the gangster to his advantage.
Get the Gringo marks the return of Mad Mel. Who the hell is Mad Mel? He’s the Mel Gibson we haven’t seen in a while, not since the days of Lethal Weapon and Payback. The kind of hard-assed anti-hero he used to play back in the day, the kind who tears through the screen with his fists flying, guns blazing, and mouth spewing profanity unapologetically. In a way, this film could very easily be a sequel to Payback, in that Gibson is pretty much playing the exact same character; a caustic, cynical sleaze ball who truly does not give a fuck about anyone but himself. Of course, knowing just how bat-shit crazy Mel is in real life adds a great deal of authenticity to his performance.
This modern noir (co-written by Gibson with Stacey Perskie and director Adrian Grunberg), with its gritty, grimy setting, and its utterly amoral protagonist, will probably put off many viewers, and send many more running straight for the shower. The overly sensitive, the uptight, and the faint-hearted should probably pass on it, as Gibson is definitely not pandering to The Passion of the Christ crowd with this one. But the genuine sickos out there (such as myself), who can enjoy a gleefully brutal crime thriller with a shamelessly dark sense of humor and a lovable scumbag of a lead character who’s worth rooting for, will lap this up and beg for seconds! I sure as hell did.
Now, while watching Get the Gringo, I had one concern that I feared might wreck the film . . . the kid sidekick. Many would-be great movies have been ruined by kid sidekicks; obnoxiously cutesy, snotty little brats who get in the way more than they help, and who just annoy the shit out of the audience . . . much to my relief, that doesn‘t happen here. The Driver and The Kid do bond, but the Kid never turns into Short Round (shudder) and their friendship comes about in a believable way that helps reveal a more human side of the Driver, without turning him into a sap. It also doesn’t hurt that Hernandez, for a child actor, is actually pretty decent. The bits where he keeps pestering the Driver for a cigarette are some of the funniest in the movie.
I have to credit director Grunberg for finding the right balance in tone, between the harshness of the setting and the gallows humor in the story. He never holds back in depicting the graphic violence, but he often tempers it with the Driver’s wry narration to keep it from becoming too much. I also have to give some major props to cinematographer Benoit Debie and production designer Bernardo Trujillo for turning the main setting into a frightening, disgusting hell-on-earth. They made this prison town look like the inside of a toilet bowl that hasn’t been flushed or cleaned in about three decades. The kind of scum crusted shit-hole that would keep me an honest, law abiding citizen so that I may never, ever end up there. It’s a setting that practically becomes a character of its own, one that nearly steals the movie.
But there is no stealing a movie from Mel Gibson, at least not this one, as he owns this bitch from beginning to end. Mad Mel‘s image has been damaged due to his wacky antics in recent years, and that no doubt had an adverse effect on Get the Gringo’s distribution, as, a few festival screenings aside, it went straight to DVD. That’s pretty sad, since Gibson gives his best performance in at least a decade (his hysterical Clint Eastwood impression alone makes it worth seeing), and the film itself is a fun, bullet-riddled, bloodied up piece of pure pulp cinema. Fuck Gibson’s personal life. I myself was appalled by the truly vile things the man has said, but I must concede, as an actor, he still delivers like few can. Maybe it’s time for we the movie going public to just forgive and forget.