He sits in a barn pointing an old revolver to his head. He mutters a few words to God, wondering why his life has gone downhill this way. His cattle are gone, now his home has been taken over by a bank. He counts...1...2....3...but doesn't squeeze the trigger. Miffed at the difficulty of the task, he takes his hat off, as if that will make suicide easier. Only a few actors could handle such a delicate scene. Robert Duvall can, and as Red Bovie in A Night In Old Mexico, he has about a dozen or so of these little moments, the sort that all actors crave but few can pull off.
Bovie isn't a nice guy. He has a big mouth and he's unpleasant. He tells his female real estate agent that the hair on her upper lip makes her look like Hitler. He snickers at his own jokes, as if we should know he's only kidding, but his barbs are sharp. Bovie's wife left him many years ago, and he's never been married since. He hasn't seen his son in 40 years. We know why. Few could take Bovie in large doses.
Yet, we sympathize with him as he drives his red Cadillac to the trailer park where he is supposed to spend the remainder of his days. He sees the people who are to be his neighbors, old, used up loners watering their patchy lawns and playing cards on metal tables. It's no wonder he peels out as fast as he can, burning rubber all the way to Mexico. "I want a woman," he says to his unbelieving grandson, Galley (Jeremy Irvine) a greenhorn from New York who has decided to come visit just as Red's life is collapsing.
The movie appears ready to become A Trip to Bountiful with Duvall in the Geraldine Page role, with perhaps a little bit of Zorba The Greek thrown in, with the aging wild man showing the insipid youngster how to live. It doesn't quite reach those heights, turning instead into a fairly routine movie about some bad guys who leave a stash of $150,000 in Red's car, and how he plans to use it to avoid the trailer park, only to lose it to another bad guy, and then another. There's probably more gun play than was needed, and some of William D Wittliff's story is a bit far-fetched, particularly when a beautiful young Mexican singer (Angie Cepeda) appears to fall in love with Red after watching him trash a bar. Still, director Emilio Aragon manages to make an average movie play better than average, thanks almost entirely to Duvall.
In a career that has featured at least a half dozen roles that could be termed the role of a lifetime, Duvall tackles cantankerous old Red Bovie as if he's still trying to impress somebody. He can still snarl lines of dialogue and make even duds sound funny, like when he mocks his grandson's boots as "dog pecker red." Watch the way he reacts to the news that someone close to him has died. Watch how he tells the young Mexican girl that it might not be fun to have an old man around. If an actor's currency is honesty, the way he looks at her is a million dollar moment.
It's true that some of the cast around Duvall can't match his performance, but there are some good acting turns at the periphery of the story. Journeyman character actor Joaquin Cosio, for instance, has some bright moments as a menacing bandit stalking Duvall and his party for the money. What makes Cosio so good here is that he goes from being dangerous to pathetic, all within a few scenes, for once he has the money he finds himself being stalked by Panama, another tough guy, played by the equally menacing Luis Tosar. Out on the street, Cosio had seemed every bit the cold-blooded Mexican killer. Alone in his motel room with Panama, he's a desperate man clinging to his life. He's a good actor. I also liked James Parrack and James Hebert as a pair of thugs who are also after the money. Observers who have dismissed the film too easily because of what they've deemed a weak supporting cast were not paying attention to the villains.
Duvall served as an executive producer of the movie. He must have liked the character he plays, for at age 83, Duvall is probably very careful about how he invests his time. I can see why he liked Red. He gets to wave a gun around, and say some funny lines. He has a few scenes of high drama, a couple of spellbinding temper tantrums, and he gets to dance with a beautiful senorita. Red Bovie still has some embers burning. So does Duvall.