Gringo is a messy, confused entry in the crime genre that wastes its stellar ensemble on an uninspired narrative and leaves minimal impact.
Gringo is the latest project from director Nash Edgerton, a longtime Hollywood stuntman who has also helmed a number of short films in his career. With this movie, he’s making the jump to feature-length pictures, accompanied by an all-star cast that includes his brother Joel Edgerton, David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, and Sharlto Copley. In marketing, Gringo was positioned as some kind of off-kilter dark comedy revolving around a weed pill and a kidnapping in Mexico, but the end result is something a little different. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to the potential it had on-paper. Gringo is a messy, confused entry in the crime genre that wastes its stellar ensemble on an uninspired narrative and leaves minimal impact.
Gringo follows Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo), an employee of pharmaceutical company Cannabax Technologies, Inc. In dire financial straits, Harold becomes concerned when he hears rumors about a merger (one that could cost him his job), but his boss and friend Richard Rusk (Edgerton) ensures Harold it’s nothing to worry about. As Cannabax moves forward with a revolutionary medical marijuana pill, Richard and Eliane Markinson (Theron) travel with Harold to Mexico to settle an issue with product inventory. What Richard and Elaine have to say doesn’t sit well with Harold’s associates, putting the Americans in the sights of the Mexican cartel.
Meanwhile, Harold’s life becomes even worse when he learns his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) is leaving him and Richard lied about the merger. At the end of his rope, Harold attempts to pull off a daring gambit that would give him solid fiscal footing for the foreseeable future. But things aren’t so easy with the cartel hot on his tail and Richard’s ex-mercenary brother Mitch (Copley) trying to bring Harold home.
The film’s biggest issues lie with the script, which was written by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone. It takes its bizarre premise that would be fitting of the Coen brothers and plays it rather straight, which isn’t the best fit and makes Gringo feel somewhat flat as opposed to bursting with energy. There are also several subplots (none of which are fully developed), jam-packing the movie with too much to do in its sub two-hour runtime. The screenplay feels haphazardly constructed, discarding storylines as it pleases – only to bring them back at its convenience for unearned payoffs. Gringo is obviously going for something complex with multiple plot threads, but it lacks the cohesion to pull that off properly. A more streamlined approach might have suited it better.
Whatever faults are with the storytelling, the cast is in typically solid form. Oyelowo makes for a well-meaning and likable protagonist, playing up Harold’s sweetness and naivety to excellent effect. It’s easy to buy him as a blue collar worker in well over his head (his frantic outbursts are worth a laugh or two), and he displays a range of emotions to round the character out. Edgerton and Theron are clearly meant to symbolize the worst of Corporate America, and both do a good job of playing despicable, sleazy people. However, these two roles are very thinly-written, meaning there isn’t much to them beyond stereotypical greed and selfish tendencies. Neither Richard, nor Elaine has many redeeming qualities, which hurts the film in the long run.
The supporting cast is largely a mixed bag. On the positive side of the spectrum, Copley does the best he can to liven up the proceedings with his screen presence, bringing life to a character with a dark past trying to turn over a new leaf. His scenes are definite highlights, though he’s not in the film long enough to save it. Many of the other roles are fairly one-note, with actors like Amanda Seyfried, Harry Treadaway, and Newton popping up for a handful of scenes as the script deems fit. Gringo attempts to establish Harold’s relationships with many of these individuals, though it doesn’t dedicate enough time to any of them, preventing the film from having a solid emotional core. In the case of the villainous cartel, none of the movie’s villains are particularly memorable and just serve their function in the larger story.
As a first time feature director, Edgerton clearly has some rough edges to iron out as his career progresses. Despite a brisk running time on the surface, Gringo suffers mightily from pacing issues, due to a second act that drags with no real energy. Things try to pick up towards the end with an explosive finale full of twists and action, but by then, it’s a matter of too little, too late. The film is plagued by a lack of investment, as Edgerton gives the audience little reason to care about much of what is happening. Gringo simple meanders towards its conclusion and doesn’t really seem to have a point by the time the credits roll.
In the end, Gringo is a disappointing misfire consisting of interesting parts that it doesn’t know what to do with. Despite the best efforts of the cast, they can’t elevate the weak material into something entertaining, which makes the film a bit of a bore to watch. Viewers who are die-hard fans of the genre or any of the actors involved might be inclined to give it a shot, but it’s a difficult endeavor to fully recommend and is not something people need to rush to the theater to see.
Gringo is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 110 minutes and is rated R for language throughout, violence, and sexual content.
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