Had “Get the Gringo” been released 10 years ago, surely two things would have been different: 1. Its budget would have been several times the reported $20 million spent on the current product and 2. It would have received a theatrical release and a top-tier advertising campaign showcasing star/producer/writer Mel Gibson.
Then again, Gibson arguably couldn’t have made “Get the Gringo” as effectively without the extremely tarnished public image that resulted in its small budget. Gibson’s unpleasant personal dramas clearly lent an unfortunate yet effective authenticity to his performance in this nasty-fun crime thriller, the severity of his onscreen persona highlighted by his alleged cruelty and lunacy offscreen. Certainly, the real Gibson has never done anything as certifiably evil as even the mildest actions his character commits in “Get the Gringo.” But it makes for a compelling dynamic to observe an actor in a role and wonder about how his personal demons influenced the fabric of the film.
Gibson is credited as Driver, a moniker that’s quickly becoming one of the most popular in 21st Century cinema, courtesy of films like “Faster” and “Drive.” After a botched robbery, Driver escapes the police by getting his car across the U.S.-Mexico border. But that move only brings him more trouble, as he is then chased by the Mexican cops, who in the Hollywood tradition prove exponentially more corrupt than their American counterparts.
After the cops relieve Driver of the spoils of his robbery, he is thrown into a Mexican prison — another illustration of the old adage that everything’s worse south of the border. The prison is a rather curious penal facility — a sort of functioning city whose residents are stuck inside but are otherwise free to go about their business, legal or not. Criminals even bring their families inside, leading to Driver’s friendship with a young boy (Kevin Hernandez) whose value to the prison’s leading crime boss (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is of a wickedly insidious nature.
Within the walls of the prison, Driver quickly gets to work at breaking out and getting back the cash, threading his way through an increasingly complex and bloody tangle of gangster power grabs and murders. Anything to reacquire his robbery money, a significant sum stolen from an American gangster (Peter Stormare). If Driver can save his new kid friend from criminal overlords in the process, that’s icing on the cake.
The $20 million budget makes this a pretty small production by Gibson standards, though the filmmakers manage to construct an elaborate, lively, and cinematic environment within the prison, which is the sort of setting that’s practically a character in and of itself. The filthy, dark corridors and sand-blasted walls make for an appropriately oppressive environment, albeit one that tests the viewer’s patience for gloominess. Despite the levity and subject matter, portions of “Get the Gringo” resemble a trip through hell — a fact that the intensely religious Gibson seems to regard with an ironic interest.
Gibson’s trademark fondness for graphic violence and torture is on full display here, with a large percentage of scenes ending in gruesome, unceremonious deaths. Filmmakers often employ this sort of bloodletting in a way that mistakes brutality for style. But even as the action ramps up, “Get the Gringo” holds interest by supplying its story with neat flourishes such as Driver’s complicated, explosive assassination of a rival, and a dark, irreverent sense of humor.
Directed by Adrian Grunberg (who shares a screenwriting credit with Gibson and Stacy Perskie), the film is a sort of spiritual sequel to the 1999’s “Payback,” which also saw Gibson in the role of a vicious protagonist who wouldn’t let anything stand between him and the money he stole. In both films, he’s convincing as a man whose wits and emotional hardness have as much to do with his survival as hyper-competency at combat does. “Get the Gringo” demonstrates that Gibson has improved at the role with time, though perhaps not for the ideal reasons. Still, what works, works.
“Get the Gringo” is available to stream via Amazon Instant Video and VUDU.