Gibson – for all his offscreen controversy – still has his star-quality charisma, and Grunberg is a worth protege for the Oscar-winning writer/actor/director.
In Get the Gringo Mel Gibson plays a no-good veteran crook (credited as “Driver”), who winds up in a Mexican prison after literally crashing the border while making his escape from the cops. That unhappy arrival is compounded by the fact that the millions in cash that Driver stole from a notorious crime boss is immediately lifted off him by some corrupt Federales.
Driver finds himself as the only ‘gringo’ (white man) in the Mexican prison town known as “El Pueblito,” where anything goes (except for escape) and crooks like Javi (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and his enforcer brother Caracas (Jesús Ochoa) run the show. Driver quickly acclimates himself to his new surroundings – pulling of assaults, arson, and much petty theft – until things get complicated when runs across a small boy (Kevin Hernandez) who is keeping a vengeful eye on Javi.
Driver and the boy recognize each other as kindred spirits and strike a bond. That alliance comes with consequences, as Driver soon finds himself sucked into a situation with cops and crooks from both sides of the border all looking to put the hurt on him – and his young friend. Backed against the wall, Driver has to use a lot of smarts and little bit of good ol’ fashioned gunplay to get himself out of prison alive, save the boy – and of course, recover his lost cash.
If Get the Gringo sounds a lot like the 1999 Gibson-starring crime drama Payback, it’s because it is a lot like that film… only set in Mexico. From the narrative approach (dry, sarcastic, voice-over narration) to the character composition (brutal but likable career crook), to the general path of the plot… let’s just say that if you were a fan of Payback, you’ll be a fan of Get the Gringo as well. That is, if you don’t mind an abundance of Spanish-language dialogue and English subtitles.
The film was co-written by Gibson (probably accounts for the character similarities), first-time screenwriter Stacy Perskie and director/co-writer Adrian Grunberg, who has collaborated with Gibson on both Apocalypto and Edge of Darkness. The story is a pretty straightforward revenge tale, but is elevated due to the uniqueness and vividness of the world that Grunberg captures in the film. Penal colonies aren’t a new concept in movies (though you usually find them in the sci-fi genre), but “El Pueblito” becomes a somewhat fascinating place once you warm to it, and there is plenty of tension, black humor, and action to keep things engaging. While Grunberg admittedly is still coming into his own in terms of cinematic construction, this is a solid first effort on a feature film.
Gibson is a pro at playing the slightly-unhinged tough guy (see: Lethal Weapon, Edge of Darkness, Payback) and his man-with-no-name manages to be pretty charismatic while being totally morally bankrupt. Not an easy trick to pull off. Veteran actors Daniel Giménez Cacho and Jesús Ochoa make for great villains – Cacho playing the stylish-but-monstrous boss man, and Ochoa playing a ruthless but soft-spoken thug. Character actors like Bob Gunton (24) Peter Gerety (The Wire), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Scott Cohen (Pan Am) and Peter Stormare (Fargo) all play the slimy types from both sides of the border that Driver must battle, con, and kill. Adding to the impressive lineup is young actor Kevin Hernandez, who has managed to be a standout in both this film and last year’s comedy The Sitter. The characters in the film are all lively and entertaining, but are admittedly familiar (but still enjoyable) crime movie archetypes.
There is a fair amount of action in Get the Gringo (several old west-style shootouts), but most of the film consists of Gibson’s character conning and manipulating his way through the Mexican underworld, often in amusing and clever ways. The finale of the film is especially satisfying (and a bit thrilling) in this regard, as Driver handles his mounting problems in pretty much the most direct and destructive way one can. Lovers of hard-boiled crime-capers are going to be suitably satisfied.
In an interesting twist, Gibson is foregoing the theater system and releasing Get the Gringo on Video On Demand services in the U.S. Taking that into account, the movie is certainly worth a rental as it will provide a suitable good time for fans of Gibson, and/or fans of tales from the underworld. (NOTE: I would probably shave a half-star if we were talking about a theatrical release.) Gibson – for all his offscreen controversy – still has his star-quality charisma, and Grunberg is a worth protege for the Oscar-winning writer/actor/director.
Get the Gringo is now available on Video On Demand services (in the U.S.). Check with your cable provider. The film is Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual material.