Director: Nash Edgerton
Starring: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton and Sharlto Copley
Release Date: Out Now
A long time stunt double, often standing in for his brother Joel, one would assume Nash Edgerton knows action. The action scenes in Gringo are a valid indication of this, a closing act firefight being a particular highlight in this area. But if you spend all your time jumping out of windows, swerving through traffic or bursting into flames, it seems you forget some of the other, more important aspects in film-making. Such as characters and pacing.
That might seem harsh, especially considering the talent that is on display. Make no mistake; the cast do a stellar job with what they have. But what they have simply isn’t enough.
The plot centres on Harold (Oyelowo), a middle management employee who is sick of having more morals than money. When he learns of a company strategy that threatens to put him out of a job, he decides to one-up his employers by staging a hostage situation across the Mexican border..…a plan that goes disastrously wrong.
A mishandled Pulp Fiction of sorts, the main problem with Gringo is too many characters and not enough depth. As Harold, Richard (Edgerton) and Elaine (Theron) land in Mexico, we cut to Sunny, a wholly inconsequential Amanda Seyfried, who isn’t aware her holiday is a front for her boyfriend Miles (Harry Treadaway) to transport drugs back to America on the side-lines. Not long after this, we swing to Bonnie, an utterly wasted Thandie Newton in the thankless role of ungrateful wife to Harold. Only Sharlto Copley is well served as a very watchable mercenary suffering a crisis of faith, but even he isn’t given enough screen time to pop as he should.
With the focus swinging from person to person so haphazardly, we need a good fix on these characters, to ensure they’re memorable over the nearly two hour runtime. How is this achieved? Richard is a conniving sleazeball (tick), Elaine is a conniving seductress (tick) and Harold is disbelievingly naïve when it comes to the conniving nature of upper-management (double tick).
It’s the sort of two dimensional writing that is perfectly serviceable for a screwball comedy, but Gringo is only lightly sprinkled with laughs, not nearly enough to sustain audience interest. The film’s primary joke acts as a rather neat summary: Harold has a manically high-pitched scream. Admittedly, it’s very funny the first time we hear it, but it loses steam by the third or fourth iteration.
The plot meanders in an effort to encompass the entire seemingly disconnected cast and their stories. There are moments of fun that punctuate all the flab and these are almost entirely thanks to Charlize Theron. Her character might be thinly written, but that doesn’t stop her from having a blast with it. A mid-point boardroom meeting is the highlight, wherein she spouts pointedly not-boardroom-appropriate quips. It’s a crying shame that we can’t simply focus on her for the majority of the film, as it would make for much more entertaining viewing.
Unfortunately, a great deal of focus rests on Harold and his dealings with the Cartel, a conceit that should conjure excitement and suspense but manages neither. It’s hard not to think of some of those excellent Breaking Bad episodes set in Mexico and wish we could be watching something like that instead. The final firefight is competently put together, sure, but that counts for very little if we don’t care who’s pulling the trigger. The cartel boss, a presumably tongue-in-cheek Mafioso who goes by the moniker ‘Black Panther’, just about gets his foot in the door with a Beatles obsession gag. Once again though, this is only funny the first time we hear it and he struggles with his limited screen-time to remain memorable.
Gringo has all the trappings of a big budget comedy with larger than life characters, but like Harold’s plan, it’s a poorly thought out façade. Theron and Copely give it some gusto with some stellar individual scenes, but the finished product is a relatively dull affair.
Written by Stephen Hill