September 17, 2012

Get the Gringo (2012)

Having become one of the biggest movies stars during the decades of the 80s and 90s, Australian actor Mel Gibson was heading to leave his mark as a filmmaker with the making of this epic adventure drama "Apocalypto" in the year 2006, hoping to find again the level of success and acclaim that Gibson had received a decade before with "Braveheart". However. that very same year Gibson fell in a great ditch of negative publicity in which his personal problems, controversial points of view and all in all erratic behavior ended under the spotlight. After this series of scandals, it seemed that Gibson's career was over; nevertheless, little by little the Australian filmmaker has been rebuilding both his life and career with a series of performances in modest films (including Jodie Foster's debut as a director,"The Beaver"). "Get the Gringo", directed by Adrian Grunberg, is not only the return of Gibson as a scriptwriter and producer, but also a return of the kind of character that helped him to conquer Hollywood: the lovable tough bastard.

"Get the Gringo" begins with a high speed car chase near the border between the United States and Mexico, where the American police is after two criminals in a car. With great effort, the two criminals crash the wall and manage to cross the border, seemingly escaping from the American jurisdiction but, to their bad luck, they are received by the Mexican police. The Americans want the criminals but, upon seeing the amount of money the criminals have, the Mexican police decides to arrest them themselves instead of turning them to the Americans. Since only one the driver (Mel Gibson) survived the chase, the police officers decide to keep the money for themselves and sent the American to "El Pueblito", a local jail where a crime lord is the real boss. Inside "El Publito", the American criminal is welcomed with a hard beating, but soon the hardened thief begins to adapt to his new environment, determined to get out and recover his money. In jail, he becomes friends of a kid (Kevin Hernández), son one of the inmates (Dolores Heredia), whom will help him to plan his revenge.

As mentioned before, the screenplay is written by Gibson himself, collaborating with Stacy Perskie and director Adrian Grunberg (whom by the way, worked previously with Gibson as assistant director in "Apocalypto"). whom orchestrate an action film where what initially is a quest for revenge soon becomes a somewhat bizarre trip of self-discovery for the nameless American bandit. What I mean is, "Get the Gringo" is in a way a return to the kind of action films in which the Australian actor played tough and flawed men, but owners of a certain inner nobleness that set them apart from other tough guys. The theme of the American lost in a Mexican prison gives the story a "fish out of water" theme in which the gringo must face the status quo established by gangster Javi (Daniel Giménez Cacho). It's interesting that, while the story doesn't really show a nice face of Mexico, it avoids any paternalistic sense of superiority and instead, doesn't hold to mention that the United States of America lives exactly the same degree of corruption, but in disguise.

Now, this doesn't mean that "Get the Gringo" is a deep serious study about the rampant corruption and crime in both countries, on the contrary, Adrian Grunberg's film never attempts to be anything more than an action thriller full of energy, bullets and a quite healthy dose of black humor. What Grunberg employs in "Get the Gringo" is a sly impudence and a cynicism that help him to give the film a well defined identity of its own (to the point that the film's original title was actually "How I spent my summer vacation"), allowing to construct his film around an antihero that, as noble and charming as he may seem, he's still as tough as the other inmates in "El Pueblito". Cinematographer Benoît Debie's camera (responsible of, among others, Gaspar Noé's trippy "Enter the Void") movies smoothly through the walls of "El Pueblito", jail that honors its name by being an actual little community living under the protection of corruption. Benoît Debie makes a straightforward yet effective job. Nothing too fancy perhaps, but still notable nonetheless.

But it's not in the visual where "Get the Gringo" has high marks, it's in the performances by its cast, which by the way is made of mainly by high quality Mexican actors. Heading the cast is of course Mel Gibson, whom as the Gringo of the film's title shows himself again in the kind of character he mastered in his younger years, as the role of bandit allows him to exploit his natural charm and great screen presence. In spite of his questionable real life antics, it's still nice to see this side of Gibson in the big screen again. Gibson seems at ease in the role and carries the film with strength. Nevertheless, the revelation of the film is without a doubt the young Kevin Hernandez, whom as the Kid he makes a great job serving as the counterpart of Gibson's character. Mexican actress Dolores Heredia shows her great talent playing the Kid's mother, and while her role perhaps is a bit lacking in character development, it's interesting to see a capable middle-age woman as the film's romantic interest instead of younger actress.

The supporting cast also delivers very good performances, particularly Daniel Giménez Cacho and Jesús Ochoa, who play the siblings that control the criminal life in "El Pueblito". Also good is Mario Zaragoza's acting as the Mexican border patrol officer that arrests the Gringo and Peter Sormare as a somewhat slow American gangster. Nevertheless, their performances end up a but minimized within the great population of characters that inhabit the story. And this may be one of the main problems in "Get the Gringo": several subplots are resolved a bit hurriedly and the chronology of the events that take place during the last third of the film is a bit confusing, even incongruent at times. that is, events than in theory are supposed to take place at the same time, feel like the aren't due to the problematic rhythm in which both events have been edited (while one involves a long and slow sequences in the United States, the other moves with a frantic speed in Mexico). A severe error on Grunberg's side that harms an otherwise quite entertaining film.

In fact, it could be said that despite its problems, "Get the Gringo" manages to recover quite faithfully that mix of action and black comedy that became the trademark of those films that Mel Gibson starred in the 90s ("Payback" perhaps being the most obvious reference). Agile, fun and without pretensions, "Get the Gringo" is an irreverent action thriller that, while taking a quite typical theme (friendship between a bandit and a kid), gives it a fresh spin by having as background the difference between the United States and Mexico, and while this film isn't particularly serious about this subject, the irreverence that Grunberg employs in his modest film allows him to say clearly an interesting message: deep down both countries are very similar.

This review was originally published in Spanish for Habitación 101 in June the 21th of 2012. Habitación 101 is a great site to check for news and reviews on cinema and theatre in Spanish.

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