Saturday, December 29, 2012

Adrian Grünberg's GET THE GRINGO brings back the Mel Gibson we know & love/hate

It says something about Mel Gibson's American career that his latest film, GET THE GRINGO (formerly carrying the cheekier title, How I Spent My Summer Vacation) was released theatrically all around the world -- in nearly 40 countries, Argentina to the Ukraine. Here in the USA, however, it went straight to video: first to VOD, then to DVD/Blu-ray, and now you can stream, as I did, it via Netflix. You should -- if, that is, you enjoy smart, fast-moving action with a with violent, occasionally gory, black-comedy bent.

As directed and co-written by Adrian Grünberg, shown at left (Mr. Gibson also had a hand in the screenplay and as a producer), the film starts with a bang and seldom lets up until its 90 minutes have come to an end. (Yes, there are six more minutes of credits, but with no outtakes nor surprises therein, you can rise from the couch, once that screen goes black and the names start rolling....) Mr. Grünberg's career includes assistant directing or acting as second unit director on films from Amores Perros and Perdita Durango (in his native Mexico) to the much-better-than-expected Collateral Damage, Master and Commander and The Limits of Control, not to mention several Gibson-directed movies. He's clearly learned a lot on the job, and it all shows up in this, his first solo directing job.

Swiftly moving and well-plotted from first scene onwards (as a couple of clowns, above, try to make their escape via auto along the border between Mexico and the U.S.), the movie portions out its exposition as it goes along, keeping us hooked, as well as most of the other characters, who would dearly love to know more about all this "clowning." Mr. Gibson turns out to be one of those clowns and he quickly ends up in a Mexican prison that makes most other Latin American prison movies (Carandiru, anyone?) look at least a little more enticing.

Prison is often said to be a microcosm of its society outside those walls, and this one seems even more so, as Gibson's character (credited only as Driver) comes into contact with everyone from super-corrupt police and prison "officials" (Spanish star Daniel Giménez Cacho, above, getting the needle) to a smart-ass kid and his sexy, caring mom (young Kevin Hernandez and Dolores Heredia, below) and even gets involved in a rather unique take on organ trafficking.

The dialog is clever and intelligent without calling too much attention to itself, as does that in most of the Bond movies, and Grünberg's visuals are often smart and detailed in small ways that keep us ever alert and watchful, in exactly the manner one needs to be while in prison. Gibson himself, below, is as good here as he has been since Conspiracy Theory, in which the actor was wound tight to just about perfection. Here, he's loose, relaxed, and about as far from the pomposity of garbage like The Patriot or Signs as would seem possible.

The character Gibson plays narrates the movie and so keeps the tone both comedic and dark. Get the Gringo offers one super-violent mob scene (below) of pretty much mass slaughter, which is handled as well as something like this can be, I suppose. And the plotting includes a delightful use of Clint Eastwood (well, his monker and a nice impersonation of his voice), resulting in an enjoyable bit of violent, explosive action.

In the well-chosen international cast are plenty of Mexican actors, plus Americans like Peter Gerety (below) and Patrick Bauchau (shown at bottom). The film's finale is one of those everything-at-once barrages of shoot-out and coincidence that the director manages fast enough for us to forgive our quibbles. And if there is one single line that might outlast this movie's own life span, I vote for "Put it back," which resonates here as never before. The film's final, violent joke, having to do with a particular name, is the best of them all.

As a man, Mel Gibson remains whatever he is or was and may win no awards on that front. But rather than Get the Gringo's providing some kind of schadenfreude about how the once-mighty have fallen, instead it's proof positive that the guy can still perform just fine in front of the camera, while working things well behind it by assembling a good crew and director and letting them go to town on a project worth any action-film lover's time.

Filmed in Mexico, and according to the credits (unless I mis-read), using union workers, Get the Gringo, an Icon Production, is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming.

No comments: