After stealing a sizeable amount of money from Frank (Peter Stromare), a notorious gangster, Driver (Mel Gibson) and his soon-to-be-deceased partner make a mad dash for the Mexican border, only to be apprehended by the Federales. The crooked cops take the money and ship Driver off to a prison unlike anything he’s ever encountered in the States. Instead of cells and guards, the prison, known as El Pueblito, is essentially a third world bazar run by the inmates, a place where a man can buy anything he wants except freedom. While attempting to gain his bearings and keep himself alive, Driver becomes fast friends with Kid (Kevin Hernandez), a child with an odd connection to El Pueblito’s unofficial leader Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho). With tension running high and members of both Frank’s crew and the prison’s gang closing in on him, Driver makes a play to save not only his own life but also the life of Kid.
Produced on a decent sized budget ($20 million), Get the Gringo wound up being passed over almost entirely by most theater chains after Gibson’s most recent meltdown cut its legs out from under it. That’s somewhat of a shame because in all honesty, this film is pretty stinking good and much better than I expected. It’s a blend of hard, stylized action and violence highlighted by an air of dark comedy that suits the storyline. First time director Adrian Grunberg sets the stage like a seasoned professional and manages to take a set of very serious subjects and infuse them with a genuine sense of fun that caught me off guard. He keeps everything simple and contained, a strong choice given that this film could have spun out of control into the realm of utter absurdity if not watched closely. Tone wise, Gringo resembled 2001’s The Mexican a bit but whereas that film floundered, the atmosphere works well here. The script (written by Grunberg and Gibson) plays to the strength of the setting which is pretty interesting in and of itself (even if it does resemble the foreign jail in Prison Break). Moreover, Driver is written in such a way as to seem like a real guy. Of course he gets away with some outrageous things that could only happen in a movie but rather than endowing him with Jack Bauer-like abilities, Driver is set up to be a normal-ish guy, a grizzled, veteran criminal who thinks on his feet out of necessity. I thought that difference was important as it puts Gibson in his element and allows him a level of comfort that I don’t think he’s had on the big screen in many, many years.