Saturday, April 11, 2009

Old Gringo (1989) [R] ***

Based on a novel by prize-winning Spanish-language author Carlos FuentesOld Gringo gives us a possible explanation for what might have happened to aging journalist Ambrose Bierce (Gregory Peck). Bierce vanished into Mexico just as the Mexican Revolution was erupting in 1913. At the same time Harriet Winslow (Jane Fonda), the spinster daughter of a Spanish-American War hero, traveled to Mexico to become a governess for the Mirandas, one of the country's wealthiest families. And, finally, one of Pancho Villa's generals, Tomas Arroyo (Jimmy Smits) was about to lay siege to the Miranda hacienda just as Winslow and Bierce arrived on the scene. Adding complexity to the story are revelations about both Winslow and Arroyo's fathers, both of who betrayed their children.

This film asks a number of questions: How can one arrive at the end of one's life and make a statement about its significance? How can one survive being abandoned by one's father? How can a country with only very wealthy and very poor avoid a violent class struggle? How are justice and mercy balanced during a revolution? This is a tragic love story. There is a fair amount of violence, and life seems to be reduced to its essentials. But in the end we understand that Bierce, Winslow and Arroyo gave meaning to one another's lives, and achieved what they desired. Peck, Fonda and Smits all give strong, believable performances. If you enjoy historical dramas set in the West, perhaps films like The AlamoThe Big CountryButch Cassidy and the Sundance KidDances with WolvesGiantHow the West Was WonLittle Big ManThe Searchers, or The Wild Bunch, this film may appeal to you.

Labels: adventure, history, romance, tragedy, western
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