The Mexican

The Mexican (2001)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini
Extras: Commentary Track, Making of Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailers, Cast and Crew Bios

Among the countless modern ultra-violent thrillers and action films, it is great to see movies occasionally that are within those genres but not entirely targeted at teenagers, and dare to have a heart, despite their dark and violent nature. Gore Verbinski’s "The Mexican" is such a film and it deserves acclaim on many fronts for creating a movie experience that is suspenseful, surprising and thrilling, yet is not afraid to put some multi-dimensional characters in the plot that aren’t afraid of feelings. Featuring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and James Gandolfini in intriguing parts adds to the mix, making "The Mexican" a film that is enjoyable for audiences who do not necessarily enjoy violence for the violence’s sake, and expect more from a film than characters whose horizon ends with a four-letter F-word.

Jerry Wallbach (Brad Pitt) is having a bad five years. A bad three hours would be enough for Jerry to create all sorts of problems in his life, so you can imagine what five years has done. It all started when he, like so many of us, let his mind slip while behind the wheel and ran a red light. Only, he didn’t make it through the intersection. What’s worse, he ran into the last man on the face of the Earth you would want to run into. Fortunately for Jerry, this man would go to prison when the police discovered a certain something he had in his car. Unfortunately for Jerry, this man had a lot of friends. Friends who think Jerry is indebted to this man until he is released from prison. So Jerry has been running a lot of "errands" and doing a lot of "jobs" for these less than reputable people for the past five years. His love life, needless to say, has suffered a bit because of this. His girlfriend Samantha (Julia Roberts) wants nothing more than to move to Vegas to be a waitress. When the date to do this with Jerry finally arrives, so does another favor for the gangsters. What Jerry thought was his last job, wasn’t. Now he’s been ordered to get to Mexico and bring back a pistol with a history, known as the Mexican. Samantha, naturally, does not like the sound of this whatsoever and issues Jerry an ultimatum: if he gets on the plane, then he gets out of their relationship for good. So Jerry gets on the plane (what good’s a girlfriend if you’re dead?) and heads south of the border, somehow hoping he can pull off the two toughest jobs of his life at the same time.

What follows is a quirky adventure that is often funny and at times very violent. Sam is kidnapped on her way to Vegas by a hitman (James Gandolfini) who shoots another hitman, all the while Jerry is finding and losing and learning about the Mexican. This is no ordinary gun. The story changes each time it’s told to Jerry, but it becomes easy to see that there is some definite life to this pistolero. By the time the end of the film rolls around – and with it a very big cameo – a surprising number of twists have unfolded and the outcome is a bit unpredictable in the details, if somewhat safe overall. Basically, you know there’s no way in Mexico that Brad and Julia are not going to end up together. It’s how they get to this point that makes the film enjoyable.

"The Mexican" is much better than the cool hand it was undeservedly dealt at the box office, in part due to critics who seem to be more focused on star-power than content – one of the major complaints was the fairly limited on-screen time of Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts together. Like that matters… Nonetheless, they both put in great performances and above the two mega-stars towers James Gandolfini as the prime scene-stealer in this film. He’s trading in one tough guy character for another, but his is easily the most relaxed, natural performance in the film, and he has some of the greatest and most unexpected moments.

Personally, the thing I was most impressed with about "The Mexican" was the group of people behind the camera. The film just looks great. Director Gore Verbinski has managed to make middle of nowhere Mexico look attractive and unique. His visual style is quite striking, using carefully designed color palettes, and salient image framing to great effect. His shot selection is fairly imaginative without being over-the-top, though I felt the flashbacks that tell the story of the Mexican itself could have been taken a bit further to truly take us to another place in time. Verbinski also knows how to pace and tell a story and the fact that a lone signal light in the middle of nowhere turns into a dramatic running gag speaks volumes for Verbinski’s cinematic eloquence.

Dreamworks Home Entertainment presents us with an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer of "The Mexican" in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio that is as close to flawless as you will ever see. The film is very colorful for the most part, and the color schemes are represented here with zero bleed and luminance without ever seeming unnatural. Detail is extremely sharp and crisp, just watch the scene where Jerry tries to cross the road in Mexico. It’s as if you can literally feel him sweating. The transfer is free if edge-enhancement artifacts, maintaining a very film-like look that greatly enhances the overall presentation of the movie. Black level is also perfect and the transfer succeeds most due to the outstanding condition of the print. True, most recent films will have transfers made from essentially clean prints, but it’s not always the case and even still – there’s just nothing wrong with this one! The compression is as expected flawless and you won’t find a hint of compression artifact anywhere on this release.

The audio is given equally impressive treatment in the inclusions of both a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> and a <$DTS,DTS> track – which are rounded out by an additional <$DS,Dolby Surround> track. While both sound pretty darn good, it should be noted that this is not an action film and, with the exception of a few gunshots and a small car chase, a very dialogue driven soundtrack. While it’s not a disc you’ll be using to show off your system, the mix is very effective and the dialogue is clear and strong. DTS purists may find a subtle difference between the track and the Dolby Digital one, but it’ll be a very subtle one indeed. Also of note, is Alan Silvestri’s playful score, which always seem to perfectly emphasize the extent of Jerry’s clueless situation.

Dreamworks has always been generous with the goodies, and "The Mexican" is no exception. To get things started we have a <$commentary,commentary track> with director Gore Verbinski, writer J.H. Wyman, and editor Craig Wood. You’d figure that three’s a crowd, but unfortunately that doesn’t quite seem to be the case here, as this track runs a little on the dull side. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a good bit of information to be learned here, it just comes off as a tad dull. Next up is another one of those HBO making of features suitably titled "The Making of ‘The Mexican.’" A mix of final footage, on-set footage, and interviews, the 15 minute featurette offers a nice look at the production of the film and gives you perhaps your only chance ever to hear Brad Pitt say the word "scatological." Also on board are eight deleted scenes, complete with optional commentary and presented in nice looking <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>. I found these to be better than your average deleted scenes, particularly one in which Pitt proves he didn’t quite get beat up enough in "Fight Club." Topping off the disc are the theatrical teaser and trailer, some decent production notes, and fairly extensive cast and crew biographies. All in all, a pretty good presentation.

"The Mexican" is a shining example that modern cinema doesn’t have to be mindless. Using modern themes and current cinematic styles, "The Mexican" is as hip as any film out there, but manages to maintain an interesting premise, exciting characters and a well-written script that makes sense. Combined with Dreamworks’ efforts to turn this into a top notch DVD release, the verdict is simple. Give this disc a try. I am sure you will enjoy what you see.