This movie was not what I expected. |
Due to my own ignorance I suppose, I had entirely expected a romantic comedy. What else does Julia Roberts do, after all? I knew the basics of the plot, that it involved a kidnapping and Mexico, but I was thinking Life Less Ordinary, not Get Shorty. So let’s just say that 10 minutes into the picture, my expectations were totally dashed.
But then again, this movie is FULL of surprises.
The Mexican stars Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini (playing, guess what, a criminal), Bob Balaban (a terrific character actor that I remember most as the music teacher in Waiting for Guffman and the quirky scientist sidekick in Altered States), and a whole lot of Mexicans. I gain more and more respect for Brad Pitt with every movie I seem him in. I really appreciate the chances he takes with his career, and he plays terrifically in this film, as a born loser named Jerry (think Mr. White meets The Dude). It’s a lot of fun just watching him in this movie. Julia Roberts is adequate as Sam, and James Gandolfini (who plays Leroy) is perfect in a role so juicy it would have been an absolute crime to not give it his all. While the acting in the picture is great, the real fun involves the story.
Sam and Jerry have been lovers for a long time now. Yet their passion for each other is so great that they drive each other batshit whenever they aren’t fucking or going to marriage counselors (despite the fact that they aren’t married). What doesn’t help the situation any is the fact that for five years now, Jerry has been involved in a life of crime. Mostly just acting as a courier for a big time criminal named Margolis who is currently running his whole operation from a prison cell, in part because it was sort of Jerry’s fault that the guy got busted in the first place. We never see Margolis until the very end, though as much as he is talked up during the course of the film you just KNOW it’s going to be a cameo played by a really famous actor. Margolis’ face on the outside is a guy named Nalin (Balaban), a weasely looking fucker who tells Jerry that he has only one more job to do before he has worked off his debt to Margolis (the debt being, got him sent up the river for five years). All Jerry has to do is go to Mexico, find a kid named Beck who has a very expensive antique gun, and bring Beck and the gun back to Nalin. This, of course, does not go over well with Samantha, as the two had planned on going to Vegas to finally get married. She informs him that if he goes on this job, the two are over and she is going to Vegas herself. He informs her that he doesn’t consider not dying to be “selfish”, and really has no choice in the matter. So the two go their separate ways. In retrospect, Roberts and Pitt probably only spend about a total of ten minutes together on screen, but the story of their romance is thoroughly explored nonetheless.
So Jerry goes to Mexico and Sam goes to Vegas.
In Mexico, Jerry has a pretty easy time finding Beck and the gun. The gun in this picture is not just a McGuffin though, it turns out to have a story of its own, one that Beck relates part of upon meeting Jerry and handing over the gun, and a story that gets retold several times throughout the film, each time adding a new part to it. Essentially, the gun is said to be cursed. This holds true for Jerry, as within minutes of acquired the antique and Beck, things start to go horribly wrong for Jerry and he enters into a downward spiral of detrimental coincidences, poor judgement, people fucking each other over, and just plain old fashioned bad luck.
Things aren’t going so hot for Sam, either. En route to Vegas, she gets intercepted by Leroy (Gandolfini), a notorious hit man and kidnapper, who informs her that the Powers That Be suspect Jerry has nabbed the gun and is making off like a bandit with it. And, since they know that Jerry and Sam were in a relationship…well, as Leroy says, “he who controls the girl, controls the gun.” That is, of course, until Sam informs Leroy that she kicked Jerry to the curb before he left. At which point Leroy’s role quickly switches from Kidnapper to Marriage Counselor.
This is not a cut and paste sort of a plot. Trust me. It reminded me a lot of movies like Snatch, Get Shorty, and U-Turn. A plot device at every corner, an unexpected event every five minutes that completely changes everything, at least until 5 minutes later when it gets usurped by another out of the blue event. The movie surprises you time after time after time, and the surprises don’t stop until the credits roll. The surprises aren’t cheap either, you don’t feel cheated. Forgive me but I’m a sucker for great plot devices.
And the thing I think I like the most about the movie is that it has amazing depth but maintains its light hearted tone the whole time. The movie is a comedy, to be sure, and a pretty funny one at that. But everything is explored; the characters aren’t two-dimensional throw-aways. Leroy the hit man, a role that in most movies would be cookie cutter, has some of the film’s most surprisingly emotional moments. That sums up a lot about the film. Part thriller, part crime story, part comedy, and part romance. That’s a pretty tough hybrid to pull off. This film does it.
It isn’t perfect. There are a few things that could have been done better I think. The romance between Roberts and Pitt isn’t as believable as it could have been, and that’s pretty important to the plot. And one of the important characters in the film, Nalin, works with pretty two-dimensional motives. But on the whole, I thought this was a helluva fine film. I appreciate it when I say to myself in a film “Wow, how the FUCK are they going to get out of this one?” then five minutes later, “Ahhh, hahahahaha. Sweet.” Five minutes after that, “NOW how the fuck are they going to get out of THIS one!?”
On the whole, I give it four beers out of five.