TWO STARS - SHALLOW
When Gore Verbinski created “The Mexican” as a tongue-in-cheek comedy, he was banking on both the humor and the chemistry of Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt to be sufficient to carry the story. In some scenes it is, but the way in which this film misses the mark is that it doesn’t take its context seriously enough.
Any film that shows as many killings as are shown in “The Mexican” cannot just treat them as part of the tapestry. Laughing at incompetence or the limitation of counseling when a person is a member of the mob works in part because of the absurdity of the choices such situations create. But the choices themselves, between life and death, killing and wounding, trusting and betraying, must be treated with some sense of their gravity in order for the humor to work. Without ethical and moral stitching within the film, the fabric unravels on every level, especially spiritually.
Jerry (Brad Pitt) works for the mob. It wasn’t his choice; his incompetence caused an accident that caused his life to become inextricably intertwined with Marolis (Gene Hackman). But his girlfriend, Samantha (Julia Roberts) demands that he quit and is unable to comprehend the impossibility of her request.
In one of the funniest scenes of the film, Jerry is trying to explain to Samantha that he is not choosing to put his needs before hers when he has to do “one last job.” For him it is life or death. The context of that conversation reveals the paltry, inadequate answers that psychobabble gives to real life and death issues.
When the circumstances of the job unravel around Jerry, a hitman comes to hold Samantha hostage to make sure Jerry delivers “the Mexican,” a beautiful, handcrafted revolver with a heart-shaped cylinder, to Marolis.
The hitman is the most interesting person in the film. A gay man who also becomes a killer, Leroy/Winston (James Gandolfini) is isolated and lonely. But, in an interesting way, it is Leroy who struggles with life and death more appropriately and realistically than the others. This is seen in a conversation with Samantha, in which Leroy explains that in his profession he has noted the difference in the way a person dies who has been loved from the way a person dies who has not been loved. The loved person, Leroy says, is not as afraid. Leroy explains that he has a sense of “awe” at that.
“Awe” is the beginning of spiritual awakening. To recognize that love gives life a stability or security in the face of death is a profound spiritual statement. But, if that is true for Leroy, then why does he continue to kill? If love and life are his real “awe-inspiring” experiences, then why make choices that continue to cost him both?
For Jerry and Samantha, they have love and they only need to begin to have life. But the choices they make are threatening not only their lives, but their love as well. The solutions reached in their relationship and in the film’s storyline leave the spiritual questions unanswered.
One of the dangers of modern life is that we often do not treat life or love with the sacred “awe” that changes our behaviors to honor them. Until that happens, not only will our films be unsatisfying, but our lives and culture will be empty as well.