Suspending disbelief is standard procedure when watching a mainstream movie these days. But with Get The Gringo, you may have to go one step further and try to forget everything you have recently read about the film’s leading man.
This is a film which comes with considerable baggage, or rather one suitcase with the name Mel Gibson on the luggage tag. Gibson is the man who has gone from being seen as a charming and popular star to allegations that he is an unstable, abusive drunk with supposedly anti-Semitic views. The former image is pretty certain and was built up over a string of commercial hits. The Gibson we know of late is hazier and has emerged from various media stories and a remarkably poisonous epistle from the screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.
Although Mel Gibson gave some promising performances early on in his career in the likes of Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously, the higher he ascended the more his marketed off-screen persona and the parts he played merged together. It is in the nature of being a film star that you include a little bit of your own personality in your roles so that the returning audiences have a familiar hook to seize upon. When your public image alters to something more unsavoury it becomes harder for them to empathise with the figure on the big screen. So, one approaches Get The Gringo with some curiosity, but also a little trepidation.
In actual fact, this is not a bad film. It is though a loud, sadistically violent and confused effort that lurches from being a would-be social conscience movie one minute, to a brash shoot ‘em up the next. It helps considerably that Gibson’s character is something of a bastard and therefore not crying out to be liked. He plays a criminal first seen driving at speed through the desert with police officers from both sides of the Mexican border in hot pursuit. In the back seat his partner in crime is dying from a gunshot wound and in the trunk is a few million in stolen cash. Both men are dressed as clowns which leads us to assume that they are in disguise for a recent heist but also, that they are fans of the Bill Murray comedy Quick Change.
The Driver- as Gibson’s role is billed– is caught by the cops in Mexico. They help themselves to the money and embark on a spending spree while The Driver is sent off to a hellish prison complex. ‘Prison’ is perhaps not quite the right word as The Driver himself observes when he says that the place resembles “the shittiest mall in the World.” This is a Bartertown style shambles of hustlers, hookers, gangsters and other assorted lowlifes. Those who are underhand enough can acquire a relatively comfortable lifestyle amongst the squalor. Lucky then for The Driver that playing dirty is something he excels at.
However, time is running out for The Driver. The corporate thugs he stole the money from want it back and are leaving a bloody trail in their quest to find him. He has to use all his wile to play off the prison mobsters against each other and engineer an escape. Meanwhile, he runs into a tough nine-year-old boy who may be able to help him out. Whilst the youngster (Kevin Hernandez) and his attractive mother (Dolores Heredia) do not exactly bring out the paternal side of The Driver, they give him a further pressing reason to break-out as well as some tricky moral choices to make.
The most effective parts of Get The Gringo are when the story delves into the favela like environment of the prison and the ruthless daily struggle to survive within its walls. This element and the relationship between Gibson’s character and his young friend are enough to make a reasonably good film. For writer and director Adrian Grunberg and his co-writer, a Mr M. Gibson, this is not enough. Nor is it probably enough to keep Gibson’s remaining fan-base loyal.
So, the more rewarding moments are interspersed with standard scenes of ultra-violence in which no method of execution or torture is considered too nasty to be meted out in the name of entertainment. The action is elevated to ridiculous levels such as the scene where Gibson’s pursuers show up in the middle of the prison yard packing an impressive arsenal and initiating a comic-book western shoot-out which goes way over the top.
Grunberg has previously worked as an assistant director on some notable titles such as Traffic, Jarhead and Gibson’s own Apocalypto. With such a pedigree he might be one to watch as long he is allowed to establish his own identity. That being said, there is nothing in Get The Gringo to suggest that he has begun this process yet and the film borrows from a number of better movies. The action scenes in the film are the sort of thing that Robert Rodriguez might be able to knock out during his lunch hour.
There is a lot riding on Gibson here and no doubt he saw the film as a chance to get his career back on track by harking back to the glory days. He certainly relies on a few old tricks though his role is more the vicious killer of Payback than the cuddly sociopath Martin Riggs from the Lethal Weapon series. At one point The Driver is faced with the choice of saving a child’s life or making himself very rich. He does the right thing in the end but there is a minute of hesitation that suggests that altruism does not come naturally to him.
Gibson’s character is not likely to win over new audiences, especially if they read the news, but it will probably please those who stick with him in what must surely be his twilight years in the action game. The film will be rousing entertainment for hard-core Gibsonites and a mild diversion for everyone else providing that they are willing to give it a chance in the first place.