Hard to see how Aaron Cohen, Scott Cohen, Stacy Perskie the co-writer, Adrian Grunberg the director and Steve Rosenblum the editor missed noticing Mel was an anti-Semitic beast in the long months they worked with him; but Jews are inattentive, I guess (I’m one and I confess it), and they’ll take off their credits now, or soon. Now that I’ve told them.
They’d be unwise to do so, for this is a very fine film, co-produced and co-written by Mel and starring him at 56, the age Bogart died, as the kind of tanned and saddened cynic whose gun is quick in the causes a corrupt world has brought him, in darkening glee and sorrow, murderously to serve. McQueen in The Getaway is this kind of man, Hanks in The Road To Perdition, Crowe in Gladiator and, yes, Bogart in Casablanca.
Mel is better than any of them, seductive, beguiling, threatening, burnt-out, serene, goofily fearful and wide-eyed sometimes and as in Gallipoli fast on his feet, certain he won’t live out his three score years and ten, but determined to have in the meantime what good times he can between the necessary slaughters that pursue him down his red-eyed, scarred, indecent but somehow chivalrous destiny; he used to be an army sniper but now he’s a robber, and a revenger for hire, a sort of Samurai and liking it.
Set mostly in El Pueblito, one of the more interesting detention facilities since the Tower of London stopped bringing Ralegh paper and ink and madeira, a walled and guarded muddy ramshackle market-town within which prisoners can carry guns and negotiate with neighbours for food, poon, live chickens, ice cream, organ transplants and recreational heroin, Get The Gringo shows, like Breaking Bad before it, and No Country For Old Men and The Wild Bunch, how crooked, unsafe and barbarous the Mexican border regions (where more men die daily in sprays of bullets than in any three reels of Mad Max) have lately come to be.
This is Peckinpah territory: upspurting slow-motion blood as in sudden massacre innocents of all ages go down screaming or blown to smithers; sex achieved between random gougings and toe-cuttings; and …
Well … the plotline is a gangster with a rare blood type needing a second liver transplant and the only matching donor is a ten-year-old boy whose murdered father’s liver did not ‘take’, a situation that worries his mother whom Mel, here known as ‘Driver’ (one of several nods at other films, another being Mel’s plausible imitation of Clint Eastwood down a phone to a flattered billionaire), would quite like to … well, look after; she slugs him in act one and he is attracted.
And this one-in-five hundred prepubescent is no sandy-freckled cheery Disney ragamuffin either. He is moodily swarthy; he craves guns, daggers, cigarettes, choc-tops and explosive means of murder. He wants to cut his father’s liver out of the bad guy’s belly and bury it with his father. And he is meantime keen to retain his own. His mother doesn’t know how to discipline him. And Mel really likes the little guy, and when the gangsters come and torture his mother to reveal his whereabouts in the cupboard, Mel, in a car chase, miles away, sensing danger …
This is all superbly managed, Mel’s dark-chocolate voice (quite close to Bob Brown’s) narrating with Chandleresque civility and Homeric magnanimity steers us through Jacobean betrayals and blood feuds and a film that used to be called What I Did On My Holidays with genial calming force. A good deal of shooting and running and car-chasing and cousin-mutilation occurs; but that’s … you can’t say ‘Chinatown’ any more, but it’s Iraq; it’s Gaza; it’s Helmand Province; it’s … El Pueblito.
El Pueblito, the prison, the noble experiment, was real; but they closed it down after the massacre, one here evoked in a sequence as good as any in cinema.
This film will make a whole lot of money.
It may also save Mel from the recent envenomed Craig Thomson-style war on him for a few drunken fumings and his bleak stern Christian faith. He has aged, as Paul Newman did, into a new life-sorrowed blue-eyed persona, like that of Coriolanus, or Odysseus home from the wars with a slashing sword for his cuckolders.
He is a very fine actor, a very fine director and co-writer, and I hope this film will restore him.