The Mexican Review
In debt to a mobster for inadvertently getting him arrested after a car crash, Jerry (Brad Pitt) is sent out to do courier jobs as a payback. Trouble is, he's not very good at it, but he's forced to do one more job which involves flying down to Mexico to pick up an antique pistol, then bring it and it's owner back to the USA. This causes him another problem as his girlfriend Samantha (Julia Roberts) is not best pleased about him disappearing off again so throws him out. Of course the trip to Mexico doesn't go at all to plan, with the pistol's owner ending up dead and the pistol itself stolen. Samantha meanwhile has decided to leave for Las Vegas to get a new job and a new life. En route she is taken hostage by hitman Leroy (James Gandolfini) as insurance against Jerry not completing his job. As the two threads of the story converge, Jerry must track down the pistol while Samantha has to prevent Leroy from killing her.
The Mexican began life as a low budget movie to be cast with unknown actors; Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts became interested and came on board at a later date. This explains why the film is not really - as claimed - the pairing of the two major actors in a romantic comedy. Firstly, Brad and Julia are together at the very beginning of the movie, then he heads to Mexico and she to Vegas, and they don't reunite until near the end of the movie. Secondly, although it's billed as a "romantic comedy" it's no Runaway Bride or Romancing the Stone. There's plenty of time spent on romantic relationships here, but it's all very dark and edgy. Likewise the comedy is very black. Unfortunately, any chemistry between the two leads is somewhat limited due to their extremely brief on-screen time together. More time is spent developing the relationship between Samantha (Roberts) and hitman Leroy (Gandolfini) from whom she coaxes a softer, caring and sharing side.
Despite some of the shortfalls of the lack of pairing of Brad and Julia, this in some ways works to its advantage. A star vehicle written specifically for them would very probably have been an insipid affair, but this project is a very adult orientated and dark movie. The three main leads all turn in good performances, and although Roberts doesn't have the opportunity to shine like she did in Erin Brokovich it's still another step in the right direction away from the bland comedies that she was previously known for. Brad Pitt carries his "half" of the movie well enough, and Gandolfini - playing a hitman - might be seen to being typecast given that he is best known for playing mobster Tony Soprano, but this is a very different role. The final "star" is the scenery itself, as the beautiful but poor Mexican landscape contrasts well with the trashy artificialness of Las Vegas.
In summary, this is a well-written film with decent dialogue and a plot with enough twists and turns to keep you interested. It may have its shortcomings but it's still good to see a film once in a while that's aimed at adults rather than twelve year olds.
After having seen some very bad transfers from DreamWorks in the past, it's a pleasure to say that the picture quality here is very good indeed. The natural sunlight of the Mexican scenes are contrasted with the artificial light of the Las Vegas sequences. Both are captured very well in this picture.
The Dolby Digital track is a little disappointing. There is use of all channels from frame one of the movie, but as it progresses the rear channels are relegated to basic ambient sounds and music. Still, the Mexican cantina band music of the soundtrack sounds good and all the dialogue is clear and audible.
The DTS track certainly is a step up. Most noticeably the sound stage is far wider with more in the way of atmosphere. The surround action isn't that far ahead of the DD track - it's certainly clearer but the difference is only really noticeable if you listen carefully during specific scenes. Again, the dialogue is nice and clear with good use being made of all channels at the start - this track is also relegated to provide ambient sound during the latter part of the film. Users limited to just Dolby Digital aren't really losing out on a lot.
The disc also features a Dolby Stereo track.
There is a reasonable selection of additional material here featuring:
The HBO documentary The Making of The Mexican runs for approximately 15 minutes and is a just slightly better than average promo piece. It features the usual interviews with cast and crew, and does spend a little time looking at location shooting and filming techniques, such as the hand-cranked filming of the fake old footage featured. In general though, it could have been a lot better. If you hang on to the bitter end you will be "treated" to a plug for the soundtrack album.
Far more information is provided in the commentary featuring director Verbinski, film editor Craig Wood and writer J.H. Wyman. They talk about all aspects of the movie, from casting to writing to location shooting. In terms of shooting on location, some quirks and problems emerge; such as when filming in the Mexican mining town, the metal deposits under the ground actually cause magnetic fields that interfere with the frequency of fluorescent lighting, causing them to flicker badly when shown on film.
The section From the cutting room floor features 23 minutes of deleted or extended scenes. These are laid out in a very good and explanatory menu system, feature optional commentary and can be watched individually or all at once. They are all in equal quality, both in sound and picture, to the main feature. There are eight scenes here that are interesting to see, but as they largely deal with developing the peripheral characters were probably best cut.
There are two trailers here, both the Theatrical Teaser trailer and the full Theatrical Trailer. Both are presented in anamorphic widescreen (as is all the extra material here).
The Cast section features many of the people starring in the movie, right down to one person who was actually in the film for less than five minutes! Expanding each person's entry gives a decent amount of career info and filmography. On Brad Pitt's entry, navigate up to the screen icon at the top to see a brief alternate version of a scene from the movie. Quite why this is here and not in the deleted scenes section is unclear.
The Filmmakers provides equally extensive info about a large number of people involved in the making of the movie. Finally, the Production notes fill a few screens (and are reproduced in the booklet).
If you are looking for a "rom-com" with Julia and Brad then you may be disappointed (nor is it the "two-hour adrenaline high" as quoted on the packaging). If you do want something a little darker and more adult then The Mexican is well worth a look. The disc is technically good and features most of the extra material you would expect from a non action / special effects movie. It was not universally well received on its theatrical release but I quite liked it and so recommend it.