Get the Gringo (2012)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

I’m talking about Get the Gringo if only because if I don’t talk about it, you will never hear about it.

It’s almost impossible to talk about Mel Gibson’s recent films without referencing his personal life, and to be sure, I think it’s particularly apropos in this case; in better days, not only would this film have received a theatrical release, but it might have made some bank. Perhaps not summer-blockbuster bank, but Get the Gringo is nevertheless a reminder of what a charismatic leading man Gibson once was and, honestly, continues to be.

I don’t know…maybe I’m a crummy person for not really caring about Gibson’s apparent antisemitism, but I’m not trying to invite him over to my house for the seder, so who really cares? In any case, it’s a bit disappointing that this film went straight to DVD in the US, because it ain’t bad.

The plot: Gibson’s nameless character steals a bunch of cash (from a psychopathic gangster  played by an underutilized Peter Stormare) and escapes into Mexico only to end up being tucked away by corrupt police officers into a black hole of a prison that is, to say the least, culturally unique and baffling even to the hardened, recidivist antihero. Called “El Pueblito”, the prison is really more like some sort of Twilight Zone border town–the inmates have been given the run of the place and it’s basically the law of the jungle–controlled chaos.

In narrative voice-over, Gibson’s character calls it the “world’s shittiest mall”; I saw another good description of it in a user review on the IMDb, which compared it to a third-world bazaar where anything can be bought except for freedom. It’s the sort of place in which children attend school in proximity of convicts lining up for heroine injections at the “smack shack”. The trick is not simply escaping (so that the protagonist can have his inevitable revenge and recover his stolen millions), but in simply figuring out the twisted internal logic that holds this system together.

The protagonist channels the laconic persona of Gibson’s character from Payback, though it’s played with more charm here as we’re led to feel–in contrast to the unsmiling (albeit likeable) sociopath he played there–that he might at least be an okay guy at heart. But what I think ultimately makes Get the Gringo worth watching is the prison, itself, which probably doesn’t remotely resemble anything found in reality, but is nevertheless somehow a believable image of government corruption gone totally off-the-rails. The prison almost resembles some sort of post-apocalyptic society in which the worst people not only somehow manage to band together but also somehow invent some sort of self-sustaining–if bizarrely unconventional (and dirty!)–society.

Get the Gringo is squarely in the genre of prison films like Shawshank Redemption, and it holds up pretty well amongst the cream of that crop. It brings something new to genre with regards to setting, but also delivers characters that carry depth and seem interesting, even when we don’t know much about them. And, of course, it features Mel Gibson killing a bunch of people.

Worth a look. Maybe even a close look.