Saturday, May 9, 2015

Get the Gringo: Mel Gibson's underrated comeback


In 2012, Mel Gibson made a return to the action genre with Get the Gringo. Thanks to Gibson's offscreen antics, the movie was consigned to VOD and has fallen into relative obscurity. That's a shame, because the film has much to recommend it. Crafted as a modern riff on Clint Eastwood's 'Man With No Name', Get the Gringo is an efficient, unpretentious action film that fits right in with the recent trend of old-school throwbacks like John Wick, Dredd and Jason Statham's Safe (which I will be reviewing soon).

I do not want to go into spoilers, so I'll keep the plot synopsis brief. After a major haul, a nameless bank robber (Gibson) escapes across the border into Mexico where he is arrested and dumped in a hellhole of a prison. While fending for himself, he has to figure out how to get his loot back and avoid the killers hired by the gangster he robbed back in the States. Further complications ensue when he becomes involved with a female inmate and her son. There is a lot of sweating, shooting and one liner saying(?).

In the spirit of the movie, I'm going to structure my review as a lame parody of the Western movies it references.

The Good
  • I'll be honest. I thought I was going to hate Gibson in this. But he's great. Personal defects notwithstanding, he is a damn good actor and a genuine movie star. Playing a career crook with a malleable sense of right and wrong, the former Martin Riggs is as watchable as ever, and still makes for a credible action hero. The fact that he is playing an opportunistic asshole makes it easier to like him.
  • The premise is really cool: it's basically 'Escape from New York' meets 'A Fistful of Dollars', with Gibson dropped into the middle of a massive prison complex and caught between two warring villains (the man he robbed stateside, and the Mexican drug lord who rules the prison from his palatial rooftop cell-cum-presidential suite).
  • The setting. The prison itself is like a city-state. While it is locked down at night, during the day people can come and go as they please, there is a food court and a mini-mall, and the rich inmates have their own private block where they have massive parties with the local (non-inmate) elite. 
  • The action is nice and clean. There is a certain similarity to John Wick in that the filmmakers let it play out in extended moving shots. Director Adrian Grunberg, making his debut, displays a sure hand with making the violence intense without resorting to shaky-cam or hyperactive editing.   
  • The central relationship between Gibson and the cynical child inmate is a nice counterpoint to the action. They both need things which the other has (very Fistful of Dollars), which prevents their bond from turning into another condescending 'old white guy teaches brown kid something' story
  • As previously alluded to, the movie has a dark, dry sense of humour. Gibson's voice-over alone is awash in pitch black observations about the situation he has fallen into. His fantasies about blowing away his ex-wife's hapless new beau are pure gold.  

The Bad
  • Gibson does an Eastwood impression at one point -- it is pretty bad.
  • The movie does skew a bit too dark in the third act with a rather brutal torture scene for one of Gibson's allies.
  • If you want to argue that this movie trades in Mexican stereotypes... you'd be right.

The Ugly
  • The villains could use a bit more personality. The drug lord has a suitably nasty plan, but his personality is a little bit colourless.
  • The movie does have a little of the 'white man saves brown people' theme, but it isn't too obvious and most of the villains Gibson has to  contend with are fellow gringos.
  • Speaking of which, I'm torn on the title: on the one hand, I like the brevity (the UK title was How I Spent My Summer Vacation), on the other, it's a bit generic and feels a bit culturally tone-deaf 

Final thoughts

In the end, Get the Gringo works as a throwback to old-school action movies, and is a great reminder of the movie star Mel Gibson used to be. It's also far more convincing as a entry in the 'old geezer kills everyone else' sub genre than most of Liam Neeson's recent vehicles. As a comeback for Gibson or on its own merits, this is a really good action flick that deserves more attention. Check it out.

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