The Mexican (2001)
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Cast: Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini, J.K. Simmons, Bob Balaban, Gene Hackman, David Krumholtz, Sherman Augustus, Michael Cerveris, Richard Coca.
2001 123 minutes
Rated: (for violence, profanity, brief nudity, and gore).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 2, 2001.
The on-screen pairing of Hollywood A-listers Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts has been much publicized in the press, as well as the major selling point for "The Mexican," a romantic comedy-action-drama directed by Gore Verbinski (1997's "Mouse Hunt"). Those viewers expecting them to appear in every scene together will be sorely disappointed, as they are a whole country away from each other for at least ninety minutes of its running time. If they take this initial letdown in stride, however, and view the movie for what it is, they will find a quirky, smart gem of a movie that is not only fun to watch, but has quite a few meaningful things to say about life, love, and death.
Jerry Welbach (Brad Pitt) is having a lot of bad luck. A relative simpleton whose strong-willed, long-time girlfriend, Samantha (Julia Roberts), has just broken up with him after discovering he hasn't yet broken off his ties with a powerful crime lord, Jerry is now in Mexico to retrieve a prized, mystical pistol known as "the mexican." Things turn complicated when he witnesses a murder, has his rental car stolen, and gets into more and more high water with the people connected to his snatching the pistol.
Meanwhile, Samantha has hit the road to Las Vegas. While stopping at a shopping mall en route, she is kidnapped by Leroy (James Gandolfini), a sweet-natured hitman who plans to hold her hostage until he gets hold of the gun. At first, Samantha is angered at Jerry, whom she truly, unadulteratedly loves, for getting her into such a mess, but she begins to talk with Leroy, and starts up an offbeat, trusting friendship with him as she aids in helping him to discover his true self.
It is the one-of-a-kind, burgeoning relationship between Samantha and Leroy that forms the heart and soul of "The Mexican," as it gives the movie an amount of depth that it would have otherwise not had. With Jerry off in Mexico having dangerous misadventures of his own, the film alternates between the two star-crossed characters and their eclectic locations. While Jerry's portion is plot-heavy and relatively jokey, Sam and Leroy's steal the whole show, thanks to the bright writing, from a screenplay by J.H. Wyman, and the lovely camaraderie and chemistry that stars Julia Roberts (2000's "Erin Brockovich") and James Gandolfini (TV's "The Sopranos") have together. Their relationship is a strictly platonic one (Sam quickly zeroes in on the fact that Leroy is gay, but has several problems with connecting to others), but the way it builds and strengthens as the story progresses makes for a wonderfully human, good-natured piece of entertainment.
As her Oscar-nominated turn in "Erin Brockovich" confirmed, once and for all, Julia Roberts is not only the biggest actress in the world, but also one of the most assured and talented. Taking on a part that has little in common with most of her previous big-screen ventures, Roberts sparkles as Samantha, a beautiful, ambitious woman who can't help loving Jerry, despite their seemingly never-ending problems. And James Gandolfini is a standout, creating and developing Leroy into one of the most memorable supporting characters in recent years. Leroy's progression in being able to start a relationship with a guy he meets in a coffee shop is understated and realistic, and the fear he has in having people find out his illegal profession is believably palpable. Gandolifini is on target throughout, and there could have, and almost should have, been an entire movie revolving solely around his character and Roberts'.
The Jerry section, while paling in comparison, is still involving enough to work, although the intentionally over-the-top spaghetti western-like music score, by Alan Silvestri, that plays consistently through much of his screen time quickly grows tedious. Brad Pitt (2001's "Snatch") holds up his own end of the picture as the occasionally dimwitted Jerry, and gets to show off his loose comedic skills in a way that he rarely gets to.
Appearing together for the opening five minutes, and not again until the final half-hour, Roberts and Pitt manage to create a romantic chemistry, nonetheless. We truly feel like they are in love with each other (after all, you only argue the way they do in this movie when you love someone this way), even when the Mexican border is keeping them apart.
For all of its strong points, "The Mexican" makes a minor misstep in the final act, with a climax that doesn't seem all that necessary and is needlessly drawn out. The last twenty minutes could have been almost completely cut out, and it would have made little difference, aside from the action not flagging the way it does in this final product. Still, its overlong nature does not tarnish the powerful lasting impressions that "The Mexican" makes on you. It's a fine film, both funny and poignant, violent and biting, charming and purposeful. In other words, yet another completely respectable career choice for both Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt, as well as a star-making one for James Gandolfini.
©2001 by Dustin Putman