Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Adrian Grunberg
Stars: Mel Gibson, Kevin Hernandez, Peter Stormare, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Dolores Heredia, Bob Gunton, Peter Gerety, Patrick Bauchau, Dean Norris.
Get The Gringo is an unusual and violent prison drama that marks a return to form of sorts for Mel Gibson as the flawed action hero.
Most of the action takes place inside Mexico’s notorious El Pueblito prison in Tijuana, a corrupt hellhole which is run by the inmates and in which virtually anything can be bought – sex, weapons, drugs. It is “the world’s shittiest mall,” as Gibson’s character christens it.
Gibson plays an anonymous getaway driver who winds up inside the prison after he crashes his car on the Mexico/US border. When the Mexican cops discover $2 million in the car, they arrest him and confiscate the loot. Inside, he quickly learns some of the rules of the prison, which is run by the villainous Cartel boss Javi (Daniel Giménez Cacho). He also befriends a young boy (Kevin Hernandez, from the Jonah Hill comedy The Sitter) and his widowed mother (Dolores Heredia), and protects them from the various corrupt guards and criminals who run the prison. The kid is due to lose a kidney to Javi who desperately needs a transplant. Meanwhile, vicious criminal boss Frank (Peter Stormare) sends hired goons to El Pueblito to recover the money that Gibson stole from him.
This is a testosterone-fuelled yarn that is reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, as well as the tough films of Sam Peckinpah and his protégé Walter Hill, which were often set in similarly seedy, lawless territory and populated by ruthlessly amoral characters. The film has been directed by Spanish born Adrian Grunberg, who lived in Mexico for fifteen years and has worked as an assistant director for Gibson on films like Apocalypto and Edge Of Darkness. His use of slow motion during a violent shootout particularly recalls Peckinpah.
Co-written by Gibson, Grunberg and former production assistant Stacy Perskie, the script is pared back to the essentials, and delivers some superbly staged action sequences, including the spectacular prison yard shoot-out. French cinematographer Benoit Debie (Irreversible, Enter The Void, etc) uses a washed out palette to convey the sense of heat and corruption of both the Mexican locations and the prison itself. There is a nasty tone to a couple of the more violent scenes, and there is a torture scene that is also quite vicious. The film is also liberally punctuated with plenty of touches of droll, black humour, and Gibson’s wry voiceover adds to the film’s offbeat tone.
The prison El Pueblito actually existed, until the authorities closed it down. Production designer Bernardo Trujillo recreates it in all its grimy, sleazy glory.
The role of the laconic anti-hero here suits Gibson, who seems to be enjoying himself, and his manic energy recalls his Lethal Weapon character. He also develops a strong rapport with Hernandez, who seems wise beyond his years. Bob Gunton, as a businessman inadvertently caught up in an elaborate escape plan, and an uncredited Peter Gerety, as an opportunistic embassy representative, also lend solid support.
Get The Gringo is a surprisingly enjoyable action comedy that goes someway towards restoring Gibson’s tarnished reputation. For some reason the film, which was originally and uninspiringly titled How I Spent My Summer Vacation, disappeared straight to DVD in the States, but thankfully we are getting a chance to see it on the big screen.