Adam buckles up for Nash Edgerton’s sophomore directorial effort Gringo, starring David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton, Joel Edgerton, and Sharlto Copley.
Much the enjoyment of Gringo, the second film from writer-director Nash Edgerton will depend on one’s enjoyment of characters being put through the ringer. Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is put through a litany of increasingly terrible worse-case scenarios for comedic effect. Gringo asks an audience to laugh at every single pothole, bump, and roadblock along this fifty miles of bad road. The miracle is for the most part you do, a lot.
Harold works at his best friend’s Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) Pharmaceutical company who have discovered the perfect distillation of marijuana in pill form. This should be a joyous time for Harold but it’s not. Not just “cash poor” but as his accountant tells him “poor poor” Harold is a good man in a bit of a bind. His wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) all but ignores him. His co-workers don’t respect him. Even his friend/boss Richard is a complete asshole to him. Gringo sets the stage for a wild ride but just not the one you may be expecting.
Like the undertaker in The Godfather, Harold believes in America, believes in being a good man and doing what is right. Much of the comedy in Gringo is derived from Harold being such a good guy that many (read EVERYONE) takes advantage of him. He is a kitten in a den of wolves. Harold brings BBQ all the way from Chicago to Mexico to his usual driver. That’s the kind of man he is. This sort of good will towards his fellow man/woman has led to many to take advantage of Harold. As he heads to Mexico on Company business with Richard and the icy and brilliant Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) Harold has an indication that his job may not be safe. He has no idea of the greater criminal threat that is about to invade his world to much comedic effect.
Edgerton manages to bring that precision clockwork storytelling that made his debut The Square so impressive and a delight to watch. Much of the enjoyment of Gringo comes from seemingly disparate plot strands forming the intricate plot through the film’s runtime. A film that can manage to have Sharlto Copley as a reformed Mercenary now Relief Aid Worker having a crisis of faith over wither or not to kill someone (again) is played both serious and funny is something that has this reviewer’s heart.
The comedy is derived from situations but never at Harold’s expense. It’s a very clear distinction and makes everything all the more enjoyable in Gringo. Other films would be unnecessarily cruel to the character with jokes at his expense. Harold is not some stupid unsuspecting mark; he is a different kind of Noir Trope… the good man. In the film, he is scoffed by many but never by the film itself.
As a showcase for Oyelowo, the film serves the actor well. Showing how nimble of a comedian and credible action lead he is. Oyelowo takes a character that others may have played the joke and imbues him with warmth and earnestness. The actor is not only adept at verbal comedy but also a very capable physical comedian. One can only hope that Oyelowo will find work in both comedies and dramas as he is quickly proving there is little he cannot do.
The film’s problems come in its splash dash use of the female characters. Charlize Theron, Thandie Newton, and Amanda Seyfried all seem stranded in their individual roles. Though they have great scenes and moments, Theron especially has some great terse dialog and moments, the film seems to not know what to do with the great energy they all bring to the film. It’s the one major complaint.
Gringo though a neo-noir/drug/crime film, it bucks every single convention of those particular genres. Rather than a stark and bleak look at the drug trade, Edgerton and Company have created a delightfully funny and remarkably agile action comedy of errors.