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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The time of the film is 1913, when the American frontier was closing
Mexico, on the other hand, was still in a romantic era, the time
of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution
Luis Puenzo presented the
violent scenes passionately and it is his passion that makes the
His use of slow motion to prolong dying remembered
me the great Sam Peckinpah in his great Western "The Wild Bunch."
The film begins with Harriet Winslow (Jane Fonda), a repressed American spinster caught in the middle of the Mexican Revolution, when Pancho Villa's revolutionary army was moving against important families in Mexico, declaring them enemies of the Revolution and confiscating all their property
The state of Chihuahua was in that moment revolutionary country, and Winslow was seen heading to the Miranda hacienda controlled by Federales
At first, Harriet (who accepted a job as a governess) saw herself caught in a shoot-out and asked for help to return to the border but later on, she starts to see that something in her face has begun to open Her clear blue eyes were sweeter than before And since she never felt in love for being always afraid of the unknown, it was here where her life begins, in a land where death was not the end, but only the beginning
Jimmy Smits had his moments when he told our heroine that the battles have made him general The land that he fought for and the people he has killed, starting with the old landowner who raped his mother and made him a bastard His mother was an Indian peasant while his father was a rich aristocrat This wasn't just his history It was the history of everybody in Mexico
Peck does a fine job in his touching portrait of the intolerable gringo old enough to be an observer He had dared to say farewell to a world, where he wrote every day of his life without exception He wrote when his youth drifted by, and while love betrayed him Ambrose Bierce grows fond of the young general, considering him too much like him, capable of fighting for words written on pieces of paper In an especially poignant scene, his best moments come long before the end, when not knowing if this might perhaps be Harriet's ' first time' he requested that she participates with him in what will undoubtedly be his 'last time '
"Old Gringo" depicts the Mexican music, life of the Mexican people, their special cult to the death, their drunken fiesta, their cheerful whores trading sex for books, the faces of the children, sometimes observers, sometimes participating in the whole twisted ethic of violence
There is some nice cinematography in the film, and the Mexican countryside is well taken Most of the film's action takes place in a fine hacienda
In 1913, Harriet Winslow (Jane Fonda) is hired by a Mexican family as a
governess, but she then is kidnapped by Gen Tomas Arroyo (Jimmy Smits) and
along with other revolutionaries. She also meets Ambrose Bierce (Gregory
Peck), who conceals his true identity and who is ready to die on this
foreign land. The three of them form a love triangle, Harriet becomes
Tomas's lover and her affection towards Bierce is rather like a daughter to
a father. But when Tomas invades the house of Miranda, where his birth
father, the master, rapes his mother and where his shoots Mr Miranda dead
when he is seventeen, he becomes so haunted by his past and obsessed with
the old papers. As he befriends Bierce, he also turns into a ruthless
commander. In the end, things get tragic- Harriet is determined to fulfill
Bierce' dying wish of not being publicised and Tomas has to face his
ultimate punishment. Harriet now is the sole survivor who remembers her two
beloved men. 'He said I would forget. But how could I not
I really like this film. Jimmy Smits is excellent as the tormented general and Gregory Peck was marvellous as the disillusioned writer and journalist. Jane Fonda is not too bad. The direction is okay, the story is very poignant and twisted. All in all, a nicely done drama.
Mexico in the teen years of the last century was no place to be, not
even for Mexicans as the country broke down completely after the
overthrow of dictator Porfirio Diaz. A lot of people grabbed for power,
including one Pancho Villa who got emboldened enough to cross the U.S.
border and shoot up Columbus, New Mexico. That got Woodrow Wilson to
sending the army to capture Villa without success.
But that's getting way ahead of this story. It concerns American writer Ambrose Bierce who went to revolutionary Mexico and disappeared into obscurity much in the manner of the French poet Francois Villon. The plot of this film offers a theory as to what could have happened to Bierce.
Dominating the film is Gregory Peck in the title role. He captures Bierce in all of his sardonic cynicism for which his writing lives on. This Bierce has all the reason to just want to leave his world behind, his wife had recently died, but not after being discovered to be involved with another man. Two of his three children, both of his sons died violent deaths. Bierce was a man who felt he had no reason to live on.
Peck gets involved with two other people in a romantic triangle, Jane Fonda as a spinster who gets hired to tutor some landowner children and Jimmy Smits who's using the revolution to settle some personal scores with that same landowner family. In fact Smits gets himself rather caught up in the whole ambiance of being to the manor born with what he feels are good reasons.
All though all three of the leads have been in much better product, Old Gringo still is a good piece of cinema and does capture some of the anarchy that was revolutionary Mexico.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched this movie a few times trying to figure out why it left me feeling slightly let down. I couldn't figure it out. All the right elements are there. The dramatic situation is terrific, the overall story line good, the actors top-flight. The technical work is good, but somehow the movie never finds it's story. This is a classic example of a movie that misses the point. Jane Fonda plays an old maid school "marm" who decides to go to Mexico to see the world. She winds up being kidnapped by one Pancho Villa's Generals. Along the way, Ambrose Bierce(played by Gregory Peck), joins them. Mr. Bierce who has a mysterious illness, and is bitterly tired of life, more than anything wants to die a glorious death on the battlefield instead of dying in bed. He can't succeed at this no matter how hard he tries. Along the way Ms. Winslow has dalliances with both men. Gen Arroyo (Smits) and Ambrose Bierce develop a Father/Son kind of thing. With a situation like this, how could it misfire? Here's how.The story is directed as if it were about Jane Fondas relationships with the two men, when in reality the movie is about the terrible internal strife of Gen. Arroyo, and his love/hate for his father, who comes to be personified by Mr. Bierce. What adds interest is the fact that his conflict encapsulates the overall meaning of the revolution, and in an even larger sense, of Mexico. In some ways the whole scope of the history of Mexico can be seen as a working out of the Father/Son relationship. The Father is represented by Spain, the conqueror, and the Son by the people of the land. Spain, as did most European colonial powers, regarded new people and cultures as basically subhuman. The only problem is that they couldn't kill enough of the original inhabitants. They keep wanting their country back. In some ways the political situation in Mexico today reflects this dynamic. Almost all the ruling class families in Latin America trace their ancestry to Spain. The indigenous people still don't govern themselves. Harriet Winslow (Fonda) is only there to provide viewpoint. She influences none of the action and carries none of the meaning. The ideas of this movie were presented later in the Pancho Villa movie with Antonio Banderas in a much better fashion. This is worth a view, though. It's still an enjoyable movie, just one that never found it's point.
The idea for this film isn't bad. Back in 1913, a sickly and aging
writer (Ambrose Bierce) decided to go to one of the most exciting and
dangerous places on the planet--Mexico during the revolution that
followed the ouster of the dictator, Porfirio Diaz. While no one knows
for sure why he chose to do this, the film's contention that he was
suicidal and wanted to "go out with a bang" seems quite reasonable.
However, exactly what happened to the man is a total mystery--and to
this day no one knows exactly what happened to him. Contact with his
simply stopped! This film seems to create a fictionalized idea of what
COULD have happened to Bierce (played by Gregory Peck). However, the
film did so by creating a fictionalized character of an American
teacher (Jane Fonda) who gets tricked into walking into the midst of
the fighting--and, naturally, slowly is won over to the side of the
soldiers of Pancho Villa--though Villa himself does not appear in the
film until the end. In the meantime, Fonda and Peck meet with and spend
time with General Aroyo (I have no idea if he was a real person or
fictionalized--I assume he was fictionalized since I found nothing on
him on the internet). Aroyo is played by Jimmy Smits.
So what did I think of this film? Well, on one hand it was a lovely film. The music and cinematography worked together to make a film that was quite pleasing to the senses. The slow pacing and evocative spirit was quite nice. Plus, the three leads are all very good actors and you have to respect their talents. However, despite these factors, the film also had a lot of problems--too many to make it worth seeking out yourself. While it looked good, the film was, after a while, incredibly boring. The plot just seemed to stagnate after a while and seemed to go no where--like they never really worked out the plot completely. And, the most serious problem is that it's hard to like or relate to the characters. Just when you start to connect with them, they behave in ways that make you either hate them or wonder what the @%## motivates them. It's rare to see a movie that has characters that are more ill-defined--and excellent acting can't make up for that.
There is one final problem with the film, though most who watch it won't realize it. As a history teacher, I was well acquainted with the Mexican revolution. The various factions, frankly, were all pretty screwed up! While there were things to admire about Pancho Villa and his faction, he was also a blood-thirsty bandit as well as reformer--provided HE was the one doing all the reforms. As for the alternatives, they weren't any better. The ideas of land reform and democracy were wonderful--too bad no one leading any of the factions really did anything to actually improve the lot for the average Mexican! A lot of people died, but essentially the country wasn't much better off when all was said and done. So, in a war when there are no clear "good guys", who do you care about in this film?!
As for Miss Fonda and Mr. Peck, they both have been long-time leftists--and very pro-revolution. I strongly suspect that this is why they made this film. I am all in favor of revolution when it means getting rid of evil, but like the Beatles song "Revolution", such movements need to have more to them than just a desire to change things. I wish in hindsight they'd chosen a more productive and life-changing revolution to dramatize--such as the "Velvet Revolution" Czechsolovakia or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Just my two cents worth.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had already read the book when I discovered this film. I think Peck
is great in nearly everything he does, and this film is no exception.
Both the novel and the film have detractors. For me personally, having
lived in Mexico a year, I may have had more background understanding
that helped me see what Fuentes was doing with this story.
Bierce was a curmudgeon and an aging one at that when he slipped south of the border to flirt with his final destiny. The themes of the book are dimly reflected in the film, but having the book inside you makes you understand the significance of the story, what "the revolution" was really all about, and the tragedy that is Mexico. It was a collision course: Bierce and the Revolution. But Bierce is more akin to the Mexican tragic spirit than our American happy-go-lucky silliness and superficial fake depth.
For a $1.50 you can find the Fuentes book used at Amazon.com. It might be worthwhile to read the book, then watch the movie again to see why those who appreciate the film actually get something out of it.
The director, Luis Puenzo, crafted an extraordinary vision of the drama
confronts players when they decide to make revolution. Puenzo took us
behind the scenes of a sweeping political struggle and made the viewer
examine the personal details and the personal confrontations of the actors
as they tred the stage of events that were much bigger than themselves.
I know, I know-all of this has been done before; it's formula scrip work but the brilliance of the cast and the direction make Old Gringo into a movie that you will return to over and over again like a favourite old wine or a dish that you never tire of eating.
The principal cast of Fonda, Smits and Peck enliven an already sumptuous tapestry woven by Puenzo. The film is visually rich and the eye is as entranced by the beauty of the scenes as much as the mind is satisfied with the meat of the story.
People owe it to themselves to see such a rich film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At one level, this film focuses on a much delayed coming of age
adventure for Jane Fonda's character, Harriet Winslow, who suddenly
decides she has had enough of her mother-dominated spinster school marm
life. Yes, we would expect her to be maybe 10-20 years younger than her
50 years, and some have suggested she was thus miscast. However, her
relatively advanced age makes her crush on Peck's 70 year old
character, Ambrose Bierce, more believable. Peck's characterization of
Bierce is somewhat at odds with what I have read of this man. We get
the impression that, like Harriet, he has decided to forsake his
bookish life, as a sick old man, for a final hands-on adventure, as an
aid to the rebels in the Mexican revolution. However, the real Bierce
fought in the Civil War and later crossed the continent on another
assignment. He was not a one-dimensional bookish writer, by experience.
Fonda simultaneously develops a crush on both Bierce and General Arroyo(Jimmy Smits). They are both seen as romantic rebels, though of very different sorts and for different personal reasons. Harriet reminds Bierce of his daughter, whom he hasn't seen for many years, while Bierce reminds Harriet of her father, who abandoned his domineering wife for a new love, and who fought in the Spanish American war to help free Cuba. But after partially destroying the Miranda mansion where he was conceived, Arroyo delays taking his troops to join Villa's, as ordered. Arroyo's bedding of Harriet on the very bed where he was conceived symbolically reverses the power relationship in which his European father raped his native American mother. He finds the original Spanish land grant papers giving the land of this hacienda to the peasants. Since Spain no longer governed Mexico, these papers were not necessarily valid, as Pierce points out, but Arroyo refuses to heed. Arroyo's shooting of his favorite horse and of Bierce reinforces his determination to stay at the hacienda of his birth instead of joining Villa.
There are several references accusing Arroyo of having become the new Miranda, and thus betraying the revolution. I don't understand why Arroyo had one of his soldiers shot for doing what he himself was doing. He must have known he would receive the same sentence if he did not soon join Villa's forces. Perhaps this symbolized the near universal tendency of revolutionary leaders to gradually become tyrants as bad or worse than those they topple. So it had been with Porfirio Diaz, the once revolutionary general the revolutionists now fought against. So it would be with various successors to Diaz during these turbulent times.
This is an entertaining film, for the most part. There are enough action scenes to complement the philosophizing and other tamer scenes. You will have to pay close attention or see it several times to dig out all the symbolism. I can see why this film was important to Jane Fonda. It is, in a sense, autobiographical, symbolizing her mid-life transformation from an apolitical sex kitten into an anti-establishment political spokeswoman for the powerless of the world.
Opulent mess that died at the box office and with critics alike in 1989. In early-20th Century Mexico an American school teacher (Jane Fonda) is kidnapped by a desperado (Jimmy Smits) and his rebellious gang. The titled character (Gregory Peck) is slowly dying of an illness and tries to get himself killed by Smits on numerous occasions as he also tries to get Fonda to safety. Strangely a bond develops between Smits and Peck just as Fonda becomes Smits' lover and then surprisingly Fonda learns who Peck really is and falls in love with him as well (and also tries to fulfill his dying wish). "Old Gringo" is a lot of smoke and sand that tries to become the "Dr. Zhivago" of its time, but falls completely. The big-name performers cannot make it through a story that drags along and never gets to a suitable pay-off. The direction is disastrous too and we are left with a huh? movie that really means nothing at all. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The main reason to watch this film is the absolutely mesmerizing
performance of Gregory Peck. Aged 73 at the time of filming, his deep
voice resonates and rumbles out of the screen magnificently, punctuated
with heavy breathing, completely dominating the screen whenever he
speaks. There is a scene in which he woos Jane Fonda as they sit on a
log; it is hard to imagine any woman not falling for the aging Peck as
his words pour forth to her like poetry. This is the voice I imagine
God speaks with.
Peck's character is world-weary, and he engages everyone around him with detachment and some irony; except, watch for the scene towards the end in which he takes General Arroyo's black horse out for a ride in the country. The pure joy on Peck's face is delightful, genuine and pleasing to see.
And speaking of the horse: one of the most spectacular and shocking animal moments in screen history has to be the shot of General Arroyo shooting his horse in the head, near the end of the film. The timing of the sprawling horse is flawless, the effect electrifying.
Jimmy Smits is excellent as General Arroyo, and it is interesting how the general becomes more sympathetic as the movie moves along.
Sadly, though, the parts don't come together to make a great whole. Yes, "Old Gringo" is beautifully filmed, but it goes on for too long, and furthermore, it is tiring to have to work out, through the first half-hour, who is fighting for which side, and who are the Mirandas.
Worst of all is the presence of Jane Fonda. She's not bad, but look: if you want to look skinny, hang around fat people. If you don't want people to notice that your acting is wooden and uninspiring, don't appear in a movie with Gregory Peck. I think an actress like Kate Capshaw (who plays a similar character in the 1987 TV-movie version of "The Quick and the Dead") would have played Ms. Winslow much more appealingly.
A final question: is Peck already dead when he is "executed" at the movie's end? His eyes are first looking at Arroyo, then moments later facing forward at the executioners. Hard to say.
"Old Gringo" is worth watching to see Gregory Peck still eat up the screen in this, the winter of his career; but have the fast-forward ready.
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