In recent years, Mel Gibson has proved himself to be a concentrated architect of pain. Throughout his entire career, the actor has always been drawn to human suffering, but lately it’s been an obsession, but I suppose audiences would expect nothing less from the once mighty Mad Max. “Get the Gringo” (titled “How I Spent my Summer Vacation” overseas) puts Gibson back on track in terms of quality filmmaking, putting misfires like “The Beaver” and “Edge of Darkness” in the rearview mirror to roar ahead with his latest effort, an occasionally vicious prison picture that fits the actor’s groggy worldview snugly. Layered with dark comedy and toxic locations, “Get the Gringo” isn’t a thorough return to form for Gibson, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Co-scripted by Gibson (along with Adrian Grunberg and Stacy Perskie), “Get the Gringo” delves into life inside El Pueblito, a real-life Tijuana prison that thrived due to its unusual neighborhood atmosphere of junkies and families, barely resembling a correctional facility, with more laws broken inside than out. It’s a ripe setting for an actioner, giving Gibson and helmer Grunberg (a first assistant director on “Apocalypto”) a chance to cook up something unique, establishing a hellhole that carries on under its own rules, with Driver and his American sensibilities sticking out like a sore thumb to the locals. It doesn’t take long for Driver to learn prison routine, with much of the early activity in the film devoted to observing the career criminal handle himself in dicey situations, facing intimidation from crooks and cops while keeping frosty, shellacked with sarcasm found in the character’s running narration.
Without fingerprints, a name, and a clear definition of his goals at El Pueblito, Driver is an enigmatic character gifted a personality in Gibson’s jittery performance. The role plays to the star’s talents, with a raw edge of violence and emotional detachment keeping him cool under pressure, while the script humanizes Driver through his relationship with Kid, with the unlikely twosome working out a few con games to help the thief deduce the level of threat facing him. Gibson’s more sly than manic, and his physicality remains in good order as the script dishes up a few hectic shoot-outs, blasting holes in bystanders unlucky to be near Driver when his enemies advance. “Get the Gringo” holds attention due to Gibson’s intensity, using the actor’s natural lean toward impishness to butter Driver’s unsavory history. Gibson also works smoothly with Hernandez and Heredia, who both bring needed personality and a little spitfire to their supporting roles.
While it only runs 88 minutes, “Get the Gringo” packs in a lot of trouble along the way, leading to a chaotic conclusion that combines surgery, a prison riot, and grenade attacks into a single flow of revenge. It’s right up Gibson’s alley. It’s far from a rousing offering of action entertainment, yet “Get the Gringo” is cockeyed enough to land most of its punches, supplying a pungent representation of Mexican torment (beyond the blaring ranchera music) with a violent twist, bringing out a particular groan to Gibson’s puckish attitude the screen hasn’t seen in years.