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The Mexican

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Mexican

Starring: Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts
Director: Gore Verbinski
Rated: R
RunTime: 123 Minutes
Release Date: March 2001
Genres: Action, Romance, Suspense


*Also starring: James Gandolfini, Bob Balaban, J.K. Simmons, David Krumholtz, Sherman Augustus, Richard Coca, Michael Cerveris



Reviewer Roundup
1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
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5.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
3 stars out of 4

"The Mexican" opens with a whale of a battle between Samantha (Julia Roberts) and Jerry (Brad Pitt). After promising to stop working as a gofer for criminal big shots, Jerry is about to leave for the proverbial "one last job." He stands on the sidewalk pleading his case while Samantha pelts him from their second story apartment with his own balled-up clothing. That the couple has attended numerous counseling sessions becomes obvious when Samantha, outraged by one of Jerry's statements, shifts into therapy speak, shouting "Did you just blame-shift? Are you blame-shifting?!"

When Samantha and Jerry part company, you know they will be reunited by the end of the film. Happily, that's about the only thing that is certain in this wonderfully quirky comedy-drama-adventure-romance-thriller-western-road movie. The convoluted storyline is overwritten and occasionally confusing, but "The Mexican" more than makes up for its problem areas, thanks to strong contrasts in atmosphere, bold use of music, terrific dialogue and an extraordinary ensemble cast.

After their confrontation, Samantha and Jerry head off in different directions. Given the choice of cooperation or death, reluctant bagman Jerry flies to Mexico to retrieve a gorgeous hand-made pistol called the Mexican for a mob boss. Meanwhile, Samantha starts a long drive to Las Vegas to begin a new career.

But nothing goes as planned. In a picturesque village, Jerry gets the gun with relative ease, but has a hell of a time keeping hold of it. The Mexican is cursed (we see three versions of the pivotal moment when the pistol became a legend) and so, it seems, is Jerry. After several disastrous attempts to complete the mission, his best friend and colleague, Ted (J.K. Simmons) arrives to help. Ah, but who is he really working for?

Things are just as bad on the domestic front. To ensure that the Mexican reaches its intended destination, a notorious hit man named Leroy (James Gandolfini) takes Samantha hostage. If Jerry accomplishes his task, Samantha will go free, but if he fails...

The film hops back and forth between the respective adventures of Samantha and Jerry, with the neon lights of Las Vegas offering a sharp contrast to the weathered village of Real de Catorce, located in the northern central highlands of Mexico. Director Gore Verbinski ("Mouse Hunt") gets the most out of both locations. To his credit, he navigates the color wheel of Las Vegas without ever doing the standard montage of twinkling casino signs. The scenes in Real de Catorce are even more visually rich. Located 8,000 feet up in the mountains, the city is accessible only via a 15.5-mile cobblestone road that goes to the 1.5 mile Ogarrio Tunnel, a one-lane former mine shaft that leads into the city. The town is a perfect movie locale - while it would likely be insufferably hot and dusty in real life, it has an otherworldly allure on-screen.

The contrasts between the journeys of Samantha and Jerry are just as distinct. For Jerry, miscommunication is the operative word, as he deals with the language barrier while trying to determine who is telling him the truth and who is lying. Brad Pitt does wonderful work defining his character, a well-intentioned goof who is dense, but not stupid. He uses his whole body, drawing slapstick laughs with his flailing limbs without ever going over the top. After a series of fine turns in grim roles, what a delight it is to see Pitt using his great skills for comedic effect. J.K. Simmons - best known as uber-villain Vern Shillinger in the HBO prison drama, "Oz" - deftly plays off the anxiety of Pitt's character by keeping Ted casual, from his low-key demeanor to his just-off-the-tourist-rack clothing.

For Samantha, communication is everything. The hostage-captor dynamic changes as she and Leroy bond, discussing relationship issues in a manner that would make Oprah proud. Julia Roberts delivers a strong performance as a person that expresses every emotion she feels, for better or worse. James Gandolfini, who achieved leading man status as the patriarch in the smash HBO series, "The Sopranos," tempers his menacing frame with silky sensitivity as Leroy, a mobster who fears he will never find true love. The evolution of the two characters is credible and the exchanges between Samantha and Leroy are both funny and sweet.

While the supporting cast is quite colorful, Pitt, Roberts, Gandolfini and Simmons own "The Mexican." The often violent storyline, which nods to both Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah, tries a little too hard and, in the latter minutes of the film, frays at the edges, but it doesn't matter. The four actors and their well-defined characters are so likable that plot becomes irrelevant. Watching them interact is pleasure enough. Placing them in a clever story accented with great looking surroundings and bang-up music simply adds icing to the cake.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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