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EIFF Review: Robert Duvall in A Night in Old Mexico



Old-fashioned caper, A Night in Old Mexico, supposedly a passion project for its leading star Robert Duvall, is likely to go down a treat for fans of the veteran actor.

Emilio Aragón directs this tale of retired Texas rancher Red Bovie (Duvall), a man who loses all of his property to the bank and contemplates ending it all. However, the arrival of his recently-discovered grandson (Jeremy Irvine) prompts the pair to go an impromptu adventure to Mexico where they find themselves entangled in a case of missing money, singing senoritas and a nasty hitman.

A Night in Old Mexico is that rare type of film that has an ageless quality about it: it feels like the sort of light-hearted Sunday-afternoon caper that you might expect to see in the fifties starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Instead of these two stars however, we have screen legend Robert Duvall cheekily causing chaos around Mexico with his cantankerous charm. Seeing the veteran star boozing, dancing and taking part in shoot-outs amongst the scintillating Mexican night-life is all part of the package here and makes for a lot of fun.

This is Duvall's show: no longer tucked away in a supporting role the actor emerges as cussing, heavy-drinking, sweet-talking force of nature - showcasing a great comic ability and also the power to warm the heart in the more emotive scenes. This is a truly triumphant performance from Duvall. It is when our attention deviates from the actor that we begin to notice many a hole in A Night in Old Mexico. Possibly too simplistic, this is a tale that presents itself with black and white morals - but in reality appears far sketchier.

This is mainly noticeable through the film's plot where Bovie finds money that does not belong to him yet decides to keep it. When the money is lost he sets out to kill its rightful owner. It's not a huge issue and unlikely to damage your enjoyment of the film but there are several dubious, sketchy moments in screenwriter William D. Wittliff's narrative. Fortunately, this narrative does hit the right emotional nerve. There is a real sweetness in Bovie's relationship with his grandson which begins cold but gradually turns to familial love.

A Night in Old Mexico is unlikely to be the spritely Robert Duvall's final lead performance, but if it is he could have done far worse. Here he presents that magic charm that reminds us exactly why he is an icon of the silver screen.

★★

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