You could just hear the studio heads ringing the cash tills when this was pitched at them. A road movie starring two of the biggest movie stars in the world, directed by an up and coming, visually stylish director. Throw in the star of one of the best TV series of modern times, The Sopranos, and you should be talking serious money.
Sadly, it didn’t quite turn out that way for The Mexican. The film underperformed woefully at the US box office, and was hit with some pretty savage reviews. Which is unfair, for while it has it’s faults, The Mexican is nowhere near as bad as you may have been led to believe.
Pitt plays Jerry, a somewhat hapless criminal roped in to perform one last job for his boss before settling down with his girlfriend, Sam (played by Roberts). This job involves the seemingly simple task of retrieving an ancient Mexican pistol and bringing it back over the border to his boss. However, Jerry’s luck being what it is, a series of events occur, leaving him stranded in Mexico without the pistol. Meanwhile, Jerry’s boss, thinking that Jerry has stolen the pistol for himself, sends hitman Leroy to kidnap Sam.
There are several gaping holes in the plot, which at times becomes a bit too convoluted for it’s own good. It’s never satisfactorily explained why Jerry’s boss wants the pistol, and the amount of double-crossing and double-bluffing that occurs leaves the audience weary. It’s also a good half-hour too long, with several scenes that seem to drag the film down a bit. Probably The Mexican’s biggest fault though is the lack of any chemistry between Pitt and Roberts.
For a film marketed so heavily on the pairing of the two stars, it may seem bizarre that they share so little screen time. When they are together, they fight and scream at each other, and there is no indication as to how on earth they got together in the first place. Both are accomplished actors, and can do better than the constant mugging to camera that’s on display here. When they’re not together, they’re both perfectly fine, with Pitt playing against type successfully and Roberts with the feistiness levels turned up to 11.
For all it’s faults though, The Mexican is a perfectly enjoyable couple of hours. The acting honours are stolen by James Gandolfini, who gives a superb portrayal of the sensitive gay hitman. TV fans will have long known how good he is as Tony Soprano, but some may have wondered how he’d fare in a major film role. He gives a masterclass in subtle, understated acting here and shows enough talent to suggest that he’s more than capable of breaking out of his small screen persona.
Visually, the film is wonderful – you can almost feel the sun beating down on you in the Mexican locations – and Verbinksi’s camera work is inventive throughout. Apparently, David Fincher was originally slated to direct this, and it would be interesting to know how the “Fight Club” director would have coped with this, which is a million miles away from his dark masterpieces.
With Tarantino cohort Lawrence Bender on board as a producer, the intention here seems to have been to produce a indie-style quirky road movie for the multiplex masses. It doesn’t quite work but is certainly worth checking out all the same.