DIR: Nash Edgerton • WRI: Anthony Tambakis, Matthew Stone • PRO: A.J. Dix, Nash Edgerton, Beth Kono, Anthony Tambakis, Charlize Theron, Rebecca Yeldham • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Luke Doolan, David Rennie, Tatiana S. Riegel • MUS: Christophe Beck • DES: Gary Freeman • CAST: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton
When entering the press screening for Gringo, I was informed of an embargo. Critics in attendance were not allowed to make their opinions about the film public until the day before its official release. This usually goes two ways: either the movie is terrible, and the studio are trying to prevent bad word of mouth affecting early box-office takings (Suicide Squad), or, it’s good and features twists the distributors do not want revealed (Alien: Covenant). Gringo, however, is an odd case. I’m both happy but slightly disappointed to report the film is fine if unremarkable. Not bad or good enough to provoke an extreme reaction, making the choice of an embargo an odd one.
Nash Edgerton (who made a solid neo-noir named The Square in 2008) directs from a script by Matthew Stone (Intolerable Cruelty) and Anthony Tambakis (Jane’s Got a Gun). David Oyelowo (Selma) stars as Harold Soyinka, a Nigerian immigrant working for a company producing medical marijuana. His boss, Rich (Nash’s brother Joel Edgerton), has dangled a promotion in front of the employee as a means of keeping him in line. On a business trip to Mexico, Harold discovers that his manager was lying about the new position and that after an impending merger, he will be laid off. Hurt, lacking money and recently estranged from his wife (Thandie Newton), Harold pretends he has been kidnapped.
Things get complicated, however, when it’s revealed Rich and his co-worker/lover Elaine (a foul-mouthed Charlize Theron) have ties to a Mexican cartel. Having promised them some of their product but not delivering, the drug dealers want what’s theirs and plan to use Harold as leverage.
To its credit, Gringo takes a complicated story (I haven’t even mentioned Sharlto Copley as Rich’s brother Mitch, a mercenary sent into Mexico to retrieve Harold, or Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway as vacationers whose paths cross with the protagonist) and tells it in a brisk and pacey manner. Given Nash Edgerton’s background in stunt work, the action scenes are solid, if brief. The Mexican setting looks great while a stellar supporting cast give it their all, even if – as in Theron’s case – their character’s schtick grows tiresome.
That said, while Gringo is watchable, it doesn’t do enough to separate itself from other better comic-crime thrillers. A Mexican cartel boss who kills people if they don’t like The Beatles feels sub-Tarantino-esque. Oyelowo’s sad sack evokes memories of William H. Macy’s Fargo character. The relationship between Harold and Mitch is part In Bruges, part Midnight Run – although the actors do not have enough time to let the audience invest in their relationship. While Gringo doesn’t insult these movies by drawing elements from them, it doesn’t have much personality of its own, with both the jokes and the violence being somewhat tame.
Aside from a few satirical jokes about middle management being seen as expendable by those above them, all Gringo really has to differentiate itself from the pack is a fun, rare comic-turn in the lead from David Oyelowo. While the actor is better known for more serious fare, here he is the performer who gets the lion’s share of the laughs. Speaking in a wonderful-to-the-ears Nigerian accent, he is energetic, charming and manic. If the movie had just a little more of these qualities, it would be something special.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Gringo is released 9th March 2018