NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
After detours into bizarro art movie direction (for me, Apocalypto is his best film) and production and tabloid behaviour (you know, the shouty anti-semitic thing), this is Mel Gibson’s attempt (he co-wrote and co-produced it) to make a straight Mel Gibson movie. It’s not quite as back-to-basics as Die Hard 4 or Rambo in going for ‘80s action gold (Gibson could have done a Lethal Weapon or Mad Max redux for that) but it has some of the feel of slightly cranky, black-humour-tinged, minimally-plotted, violent entertainments like Bird on a Wire, Conspiracy Theory or Payback. In fact, it could easily be a sequel to Payback in that Gibson’s professional criminal lead, who gives several presumably fake names, could be Richard Stark’s Parker after a few more hits to the head.
It opens with a car chase and Gibson’s Driver, dressed as a clown for no good reason, crashing through the Mexican border with a couple of bagloads of cash stolen – it turns out – from South-Western gangster Frank (Peter Stormare). Casually corrupt Mexican police steal the cash and put the Driver into a strange semi-open prison which looks like ‘the world’s shittiest mall’ and resembles an open-plan favela or a South-of-the-Border version of New York from Escape From New York. In the general population, the gringo rises by strong-arm methods and cartoon character sneakiness and bonds grittily with a ten-year-old kid (Kevin Hernandez) who el jefe Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) keeps healthy because he has the right bloodtype to become an unwilling liver doner for that operation he needs. The gringo upturns the prison by bringing down Javi, setting his lieutenants/family against each other, and then goes back to America to pull off a confidence-trick-cum-assassination (which involves a very poor Clint Eastwood impersonation, along with an umbrella and some hand grenades) to take Frank off the board so someone can benefit from all that money.
There’s a flicker of sentiment as the hero opts to save the kid, who is on the operating table with his liver in the hands of an unethical surgeon (Patrick Bauchau), rather than go for the cash, but that’s about it for square morality. It’s a vision of universal corruption, with as many rotten American officials and gangsters as Latino scum, but those following Gibson’s racial tirades might find the depiction of Mexico as a large rubbish dump which is also a brothel-cum-cockfight-cum-carnival objectionable – not that it’s so different from the vision found in Sam Peckinpah’s movies or many another Mexico-set actioner. Gibson, looking weathered, does his old vicious-snarky act well and narrates in gravelly, epigrammatic fashion, though – as in quite a few of his star vehicles – remains a surprisingly unlikeable hero. His daffy, goonish streak undercuts his stature as a Charles Bronson-Lee Marvin stand-in, and you’re never quite sure whether you think this dick deserves a happy ending that much more than the loathesome lowlifes he gets the better of. Director Adrian Grunberg gives the film a queasy, unhealthy, Amores Perros-ish look – though the supporting characters are all cut-outs and the prison town isn’t quite as fantastical a setting as it might be. Co-written by Gibson, Grunberg and Stacy Perskie. 2012.