By MARK TURNER
Mel Gibson has become the movie star folks love to kick around. First, when he made PASSION OF THE CHRIST, folks in Hollywood laughed at him ... until the movie became a blockbuster. When he went through his public divorce he was ridiculed.
Arrested on drunk driving charges and making anti-Semitic remarks? Screaming at an ex-girlfriend and mother of his youngest child? Yep he was guilty of all these things. And yet he continues to work and make movies. But we're a society more interested in the lifestyles of the rich and famous than their movies.
Me? I could care less. I want to know if the movies he makes are good. GET THE GRINGO, his latest, is fantastic.
Gibson stars as a bank robber on the run as the film opens. With a wounded partner and the border patrol on his tail, he heads for the Mexican border and jumps the fence there. When the Mexican border guards find the money in his back seat, they take custody of him. Carted off to jail without his money (that the guards have taken for themselves), Gibson is tossed into one of the worst jails of all times.
The jail is a city unto itself. If guards exist here you never see them with the exception of the walls. Instead a crime boss named Javi controls everything in the prison from where you live to the drugs or guns you want. Living in his own mansion of sorts, he has family members run his business for him. As he navigates this prison, Gibson's character (never given a name) takes note of everything that goes on around him. He knows his only chance for survival is to make himself useful to Javi.
Gibson also gets to know someone who can help him understand what's going on and help him on this path. The Kid (Kevin Hernandez) is a low level hustler who Javi always seems to protect. There is a reason for this that becomes apparent later on (I won't surprise you here). As Gibson finds his way in the prison, he takes the kid under his wing as well. The kid's mother (Delores Heredia) isn't pleased at first, but eventually she takes a liking the Gibson.
While Gibson is making his way through this new territory the men he robbed to start the film off are looking for him. They track down the border cops and torture them to find out where he is. And with enough money behind them, the find their way into the prison armed to the teeth to take Gibson out. What follows is one bloody battle that you won't forget and the need for Gibson to make his move earlier than he intended to.
There are several things that make this movie work, first and foremost Mel Gibson. As he's aged Gibson has a weathered look about him that suits the character in this movie. This is a man who has seen hard times and in so doing knows how to accomplish his goals no matter who he has to use to do so. His character is all about self preservation and nothing more. But as the film progresses we notice his character begin to open a bit and to find a certain fondness for the kid.
The setting of the story plays a major role in the success of this film. You've never seen a prison like this before and hopefully never will in person. The core of the film was based on the true stories of prisons like this in Mexico, some of which have been closed down. How people survive here, how Gibson finds his way around and the interaction between characters in the prison adds to the film.
The last thing that makes this film stand out is the script. Well written much of the story unfolds through the sarcastic narration of Gibson's character. His world weary ways present themselves as he begins with "hello kids..." telling his tale. I once read that many found this character to be much like the character of Porter from Gibson's film PAYBACK. It is very much like that character, a hard core criminal that for some reason you seem to like. This film could easily be a follow up to that film. It would make a great double feature anywhere.
If you like Gibson you'll find this to be one of his better films. The range of emotion he displays through subtle looks and gestures makes this one of his best performances. If you don't like Gibson because of the personal problems get over it and watch the movie for the entertainment value. We all have problems in our personal lives; unfortunately movie stars have them displayed on the front page. If you can forget that for just a while, you'll be watching a good movie.
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