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[whitespace] 'The Mexican'
You're not validating me! Julia Roberts and James Gandolfini disagree.

Tough Talk

'Wild at Heart' author sneers at wimpy Pitt film

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Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation.

"W ELL, the dialogue stinks." This six-syllable assertion has been uttered by author Barry Gifford, standing beside me in the mushy evening mist outside the theater where our threesome has just seen the new Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts flick The Mexican.

Gifford is an author, a screenwriter, a playwright, and a poet. He's best known for the novel Wild at Heart, for the screenplay of David Lynch's Lost Highway, and for the best-selling book of film criticism, Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir. He enjoys a worldwide reputation as a tough-talking, one-of-a-kind American writer with an unconventional body of work. He lives in Berkeley, not far from Vinnie Osorio, the other member of our little group.

Vinnie, a pal of Gifford's since they were both 13, has earned a unique reputation of his own over the last few years, since Vinnie accompanies Gifford to most of his appearances and interviews. According to Gifford, a major magazine in Rome planned a piece on Gifford, but was so impressed with Vinnie--a self-described "Buddhist plumber"--that the resulting article was as much about Vinnie as it was about Gifford.

Gifford clearly enjoys this development.

"He gets half of all my interviews now," Gifford says, smiling oh so slightly. He adjusts his jacket as the mist turns to rain, while Vinnie offers his own summation of the film.

"It was hilarious," he says.

"The dialogue stinks," repeats Gifford. And with that we go off in search of a drink.

THE MEXICAN is a strange hybrid. An action-adventure-comedy with mystical undertones, it follows the dual stories of a sad-sack thug (Pitt) sent to Mexico to fetch a legendary pistol named The Mexican, and the thug's neurotic girlfriend (Roberts), who is taken hostage by a sentimental hit man (James Gandolfini) to ensure that Pitt returns with the goods.

At the heart of the film are the gooey "relationship" chats that Roberts shares with the surprisingly New Age hit man. The dialogue is strewn with the catch phrases of modern psychology: "You're not validating me," "I'm a giver, you're a taker," and "Let's take a time out."

Vinnie loved it. Gifford didn't.

"All the men vs. women stuff was OK," Gifford allows, sipping a vodka as we perch on a row of stools at a nearby bar. "But it was tiresome."

"You don't realize how much of that psychobabble shit really goes on," Vinnie remarks. "I thought their relationship was the most realistic thing in the movie. All that carping and bitching, the constant postulating, the pop-psychology theories used to justify their own egocentricities. I've heard so much of that crap in my life you wouldn't believe it."

"Well, when I hear the word relationship--as the saying goes, I reach for my Luger," jokes Gifford. "But seriously, I agree that the relationship talk was stuff we hear all the time, but it wasn't funny. The script needed a rewrite.

"Let me ask you something, Vinnie," Gifford continues. "Why is this couple together? Let's see, she says that he's a generous and kind lover, but we don't get anything else."

"Oh, I know exactly why she's with him," Vinnie replies. "She's with him because he listens to her. He's a lug and a criminal and he gets exasperated with her, but he listens, and obviously nobody's been listening to her in a long, long time. Would you?"

Gifford wouldn't.

Which brings this conversation to the big moral point of the movie, as symbolized by The Question--the simple test as to whether a relationship will last. Roughly paraphrased, the question is: If two people really love each other but just can't get along, when do they say enough is enough?

The movie's answer? Enough is never enough. If two people truly love each other, they'll never give up.

Gifford's answer isn't so sweet.

"I think it comes to a point where, you know, the repetitiousness of it all finally wears you out," he says. "You get tired. You just get so goddamn tired. That's when it's time to say, 'Enough is enough.'"

Hardly the stuff of self-help books, but kind of catchy.

"Now, if the other person is capable of changing, really doesn't want to lose the good parts, there's still a chance," Gifford adds. "I think people's ability or inability to change, to want to change, is the key to the whole thing. You have to be able to recognize when the other person is just not going to ever be secure enough to satisfy you."

Vinnie nods.

"Security," Gifford says. "That's the thing."

"The first thing you have to do is be comfortable with yourself," Gifford goes on. "It's an old adage. It's a cliché. But it's nevertheless the main truth of the whole matter. Once you are comfortable with the way you are, then it's really up to the other person to accept or not accept you. That is the answer to the question about when enough is enough.

"In this movie," he says, "the answer is very shallow. The people are shallow. The whole movie is shallow. Better dialogue would have helped."

"But, Barry, I've known so many people like that it's frightening," Vinnie insists. "I've known women like that."

"Fine, so The Mexican was realistic in that one thing," Barry Gifford gives in. "But the dialogue still stinks."

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From the March 8-14, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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