I understand that Mel Gibson might not be the nicest person in the world. He may even be a particularly lousy human being, and I certainly understand if a studio won’t hire him because of this. But damn if the man can’t act.
Reminders of that simple fact are rare these days, but, to me at least, they aren’t unwelcome. Ignoring Gibson’s clear talent because he’s not a good person seems to presuppose that the actors and actresses we still do hold in high regard are better people, a proposition as uncomfortable as the idea that Ben Roethlisberger showed some sort of personal growth after multiple accusations of sexual assault simply because he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a few wins.
Just Gibson’s third film role since 2004, Get the Gringo is a tight, darkly amusing, gritty action yarn that you would probably see opening to much more fanfare if its leading man wasn’t known more for incoherent rants and embarrassing mug shots than his acting at this point in his career.
Gibson plays The Driver — who is not totally unlike Ryan Gosling’s identically named character in 2011′s Drive, only with even less regard for the well-being of himself and others — a con-man sent to Mexican prison after swiping a sizable sum of money from a crime boss and making a daring but doomed escape over the border from the United States.
I have no idea what real Mexican prisons are like, but the one The Driver gets sent to must be a parody; even adjusting for the brazen corruption south of the border, it strains credulity to believe that a 10-year-old boy and his mother would make a comfortable home in this prison alongside another crime boss, who might as well be living in a penthouse. It’s a bizarre world we’re thrust into, but it’s one in which The Driver, always scheming, is right at home.
Seemingly isolated and handicapped by his Gringo status and feigned poor command of Spanish, The Driver nonetheless ends up with enough cash to carve out a semi-comfortable existence as he simultaneously plots his exit. Helping him along is the aforementioned 10-year-old boy — simply known as The Kid (Kevin Hernandez) — who knows the ins and outs of the prison and enjoys unique protection because, as it turns out, Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), the kingpin in the prison penthouse, will soon need a new liver and The Kid is the only donor match to be had.
That semi-comfortable existence also happens to be semi-permanent. All that money The Driver stole remains mostly at large, creating complications for him; further muddying the waters is his relationship with The Kid and his mother (Dolores Heredia). Both the lure of the money and his fondness for The Kid are enough to make the status quo at the prison untenable, and what follows is a satisfying — if not terribly original — action-caper conclusion.
Gibson is simply terrific in this gritty, black-heart-of-gold type of role. Given what we know about his personal life, it’s certainly possible — even likely — that he’s hardly even acting to bring such a cutting edge to the character of The Driver. It doesn’t matter to me either way. I don’t have to make any decisions about hiring him, I just have to enjoy his movies, and enjoy Get the Gringo, I did.
The performances of Hernandez and Cacho were a big part of that enjoyment, but much of it was down to Gibson, who, along with co-writer and the film’s director Adrian Grunberg, ginned up the vibrant and surreal prison and brought to life the crazed con man thrust into the middle of it.
Screening Room Rating: 8 out of 10