While I occasionally get some entertainment value out of celebrity news and revelations celebs are not all nice people, I generally keep their off-screen exploits off my radar. Mel Gibson is a good example of that. The guy has made a real mess of his personal life, but put him on the screen (or behind the camera) and he remains a talented and charismatic personality. He has only begun getting back on the screen, with less than a handful of appearances since 2002’s Signs, but with Get the Gringo (previously titled How I Spent My Summer Vacation), he shows that he still has a little bit of the old school charisma in him.
Get the Gringo gives us a touch of the badass, tough guy type of character we haven’t seen from Gibson since 1999’s Payback. As a matter of fact, this would probably play well as the back half to a Gibson double feature paired with the Brian Helgeland film. As it stands, Get the Gringo feels one step removed from the 1970s era of gritty action dramas. It would be right at home among the films of Walter Hill (The Warriors) and Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch), with perhaps a hint of Akira Kurosawa (Yojimbo) mixed in for good measure. Granted, this is not quite in the same league, but you can see the influences.
The movie follows a man simply known as the Driver (Mel Gibson). Actually, I am not sure he is actually called by that name within the movie. It is used in the subtitles, and when pressed for a name, he does not seem interested in telling the truth.
The first time we see him is as he races like a madman through what looks like the arid desert of Arizona or New Mexico. He is wearing a clown mask with a similarly masked, but bleeding, partner in the back seat… bleeding over a big bag of money. They are heading for the Mexican border while being relentlessly pursued by the police.
Driver takes the chase off-road and ends up taking an ill-fated jump, flying through a corrugated metal wall border, before flipping over the border into Mexico. The car comes to rest just in front of Mexican police who are patrolling the border. They take Driver into custody, liberating him of the obviously stolen money.
Our resident anti-hero is unceremoniously dumped into prison, without a name, fingerprints, or charges. It is not just any prison, it is a prison where, if you have the money, your family can come live with you (essentially allowed to come and go as they please).
The prison has its own economy, its own shops, and even a heroin hut (in case you need some help dealing with, you know, prison). This prison even has its own crime boss overseeing everything; he can even leave the prison for dinner or sporting events, so long as he returns. Needless to say, corruption is rampant, but that really isn’t the story here (something else interesting to note is that this prison is based on an actual Mexican prison).
The story is actually pretty simple. Driver finds himself in prison, no money, no way out, a 40-year smoking habit, and no cigarettes. He quickly sets about learning the lay of the land and with the help of a 10-year-old boy, also with a smoking habit, begins to figure out the hierarchy. He uses the knowledge to manipulate the bad guys to facilitate his escape. Oh, he also uses his knowledge to find out where his money is and get it back from those corrupt cops.
What makes the movie work is the attitude and style. There is no denying that the movie as a certain swagger to it. Gibson walks through the film with a smirk and a wink, not always in control of the situation, but always looking for the upper hand. It is an homage to a bygone era of violent cinema (perhaps the Man with No Name films?). The movie is violent, especially in the latter portion.
The film was co-written by Mel Gibson, Stacy Perskie, and director Adrian Grunberg. They make no attempt to hide their influences, but they also inject enough personality to make it a lot of fun. There are some great character moments; some surprising moments of violence; dark humor; and a central character who is not a hero, but not quite a complete bad guy.
Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.4:1. It is a very nice looking transfer. It captures the gritty aura of the film but with a high level of detail. Colors are well represented with the hot yellow of the heat, bright reds, and solid shadow detail. It has a look that is very modern, but also captures a bit of the 1970s with its rough edges.
Audio is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It is a very good track that does a solid job of immersing the viewer in the movie. Surrounds are used effectively, with good examples being the opening car chase and any of the shootouts. Gunshots ring out from all sides and all the while, dialogue remains nice and clear.
- Get the Gringo: A Look Inside. This is a pretty good behind the scenes piece with interviews with the main players, on set footage, and plenty of details on how this all came together.
- “El Corrido del Gringo” Music Video. A fun, bouncy tune with footage from the film.
- On the Set: The Car Chase, The Showdown, The Raid. A trio of brief featurettes that take a look at a few of he films signature set pieces.
Bottomline. Get the Gringo is a really entertaining movie. I wish it got a proper theatrical release and would have loved to have seen it on the big screen. It is big, loud, violent, funny, and while it never quite achieves greatness, there is plenty to enjoy. So, ignore the bad title, and enjoy.
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