It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There is a potentially wonderful story at the heart of "Old Gringo," but the movie never finds it - the screenplay blasts away in every direction except the bulls-eye. The movie is about a Yankee spinster (Jane Fonda), who decides one day in 1912 to break loose from her humdrum life by taking a job in Mexico as a governess. Once she arrives there she is immediately caught in the middle of the Mexican revolution. While buildings explode and bullets fly through the air, she has a passionate love affair with a revolutionary general, and a meeting of minds with a great American author. The story ends in bloodshed, sadness and nobility.
With just a slightly different slant, this could have been the plot outline for one of those paperback romance novels - the ones with the covers showing the heroine in the foreground, wide-eyed and heaving-bosomed, while a swarthy young man with a mustache eyes her lustfully. But, no, this is a serious enterprise, and the movie is based on a novel by the distinguished writer Carlos Fuentes. It's easy to imagine how the story attracted the filmmakers, but they spend too little time telling it, and too much time on aimless scenes of sound and fury.
The title comes from the identity of the old gringo in the movie, a weathered American (Gregory Peck) who walks fearlessly in the midst of battle because he has come to Mexico in search of death.
Harriet Winslow, the Fonda character, encounters him soon after she arrives in Mexico, and gradually comes to love his stoic acceptance and sardonic wit. She does not realize until late in the film that he is, in fact, Ambrose Bierce, the bitter, elusive American author who disappeared in Mexico in 1913 or 1914.