You may or may not have been berated with podcast interviews and guest spots on talk shows over the last two weeks of movie stars telling you to go see the movie, Gringo. I saw a trailer for Gringo about 3 months ago and while I was interested, the whole thing sounded more like a 30 Rock bit than a good movie.
I can hear Liz Lemon chastising Jenna for her choice to take a small non-speaking role in a movie directed by Joel Edgerton's brother "Nash" in Mexico, and in the end we find out that the cartel has kidnapped Jenna, but let her go as long as she returned one weekend a month to help them torture pot farmer's children using her sexuality.
I had an incredible amount of trepidation about Gringo, while it stars some of the most underrated and talented actors around, it was all the things surrounding the actors that gave me pause. Everything from the title of the movie, to the trailer, to the wacky off type character roles felt strange and a little off, but this may be just what the makers of Gringo wanted all along.
Let's get everyone up to speed with a quick rundown, our protagonist and the Gringo mentioned in the title is a middle aged man named Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo). Harold is a guy just trying to get by, working his job at an American pharmaceutical company that is working on creating a weed pill at a plant in Mexico.
Harold is indebted to his boss and college friend, Richard Rusk, who got him the job when he was desperate for one. Harold believes Richard to truly be his close friend, but when there are rumors that the company may be merging with another, all Harold can get out of his "friend" is stories and lies.
Along with Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron), another high up at the company and possibly more of a brash asshole than even Rusk, the trio take a trip to Mexico to sort out some issues at the plant. While there we find that Markinson and Rusk have been even less honest with Harold that we thought, and to make matters worse they leave poor good mannered Harold behind, probably more due to their utter lack of compassion and less as a plan to screw Harold over.
That is more or less what you need to know to head into Gringo with some assurance. There is a lot more going on than what I have laid out here, but luckily the plot is just basic enough to entice the audience without being too confusing. It also helps when you have some great actors giving some great performances.
Gringo is full of great, underappreciated actors, most of whom are playing against type and even though it feels like it may get a bit messy it never does. Edgerton and Theron are over here trying to one up each other to see who can be the bigger piece of trash in this movie and it is a real treat for the audience. Both these actors tend to play good guys, if not the star of the movie, but not in Gringo.
Both of them are such good actors that basically half of what the characters are saying can be picked up just from body language. It's actually really impressive to see such talented people trying something different and absolutely succeeding. Sharlto Copley sheds his wonderful South African accent unfortunately but in it's place is a super fun American accent that may help some extra eyes see what a talented actor this guy really is.
For as good as all of those performances were, there is one that is clearly head and shoulders above the rest, and that is from the star, David Oyelowo. My first thought when I saw the Gringo trailer for the first time was "How the hell is MLK going to pull off this wacky, fool in the rain type character? I had never seen Oyelowo do comedy before so I had some doubts, but those were washed away literally less than 5 minutes into the movie.
Oyelowo is not only the perfect actor to play this role but he is also amazingly funny. The man knows how to play to the audiences emotions, be they silly or serious, and he does both in Gringo. He holds this movie up so well and turns what would be a basic, silly lead role for most actors, into something different, something more....interesting.
What I was most concerned with heading into the movie was the tone and the writing. With a title like "Gringo" I was thinking that this would be a Dumb and Dumberer level of a script. Luckily what we get is closer to a movie like Let's Be Cops, which for the record I like quite a bit. The plot is not airtight and some of the characters use a bit too much effen and jeffen to uncreatively give them personality but for the most part it gets the job done
Even when the movie hits a rough patch around the beginning of the third act, the wonkiness and crazy plot points are enough to keep the viewer entertained. The themes of whether it is better in life be be a good person or a bad one may have fallen a bit flatter without the tremendous work of Oyelowo and the rest of the cast but that leads me into my biggest issue with Gringo.
As I said the theme works, for most of the movie. Harold is a good man living in a world that he comes to see is dominated by bad ones. By the end of the movie we are left with a bunch of different pieces, and some fair better than others. Not only is the ending fairly predictable but also does not correctly match up well with the rest of the movie.
Really, Gringo is a fun movie that can get surprisingly deep and dark. There is always a through line of comedy but Gringo toes the line pretty well. It may be because I was not expecting much when I sat down in the theater but I enjoyed this movie way more than I thought I would. Gringo is not an academy award winning film by any stretch but is definitely worth the 2 hour watch, especially if you have a few jazz cigarettes with your pals beforehand.