Movie review: Gringo
Nash Edgerton’s dark comedy features David Oyelowo as a hapless businessman struggling to stay alive in Mexico after a botched kidnapping, a bad drug deal and festering marital issues leave him deliriously endangered.
Starring: David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, Amanda Seyfried
Directed by: Nash Edgerton
Running time: 1 hr 50 mins
By Katherine Monk
Being a Gringo in Mexico can be a dangerous thing. One minute, you’re drinking tequila. The next, you bought ten tin tchotchkes and a time share. Or worse: You’re Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), an ordinary schmo from the suburbs who accidentally finds himself in a deal gone bad with the drug cartels.
Harold thought he was just going down to Mexico for a business deal with his two bosses, Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron). Stay a few days, visit the factory, iron out contracts — that was the plan.
Yet, we know from the opening scene things go wrong, because Harold is yelling on the phone. He’s been kidnapped. From there, we move backward a few days, and watch Harold deal with his regular hell: Chicago in winter, dog-walking for his ambivalent spouse (Thandie Newton) and dealing with his jackass of a boss, Richard, who keeps telling him they’re buddies.
There’s a lot we don’t know. There’s more we probably don’t want to know. And for director Nash Edgerton, the stuntman brother to leading man Joel, the whole mangled plot becomes a source of suspense. We know the whole thing is careening toward a crash, all we have to do is brace for impact, then untangle the twisted wreckage to see who survives.
It’s dark genre that’s been around the track a few times, from its roots in film noir to the more sarcastic tones of Tarantino, Gringo is playing with our own moral compass because a lot of bad things are happening to a lot of people. Some of them are bad people. Others, like Harold, are easily identifiable as good.
Harold believes in god. He says so. Out loud, in a scene involving a born again mercenary, Harold says “Of course I believe in God!” Like, who doesn’t? Oyelowo gives it such a tender note of exasperation, that for a brief moment, you think something meaningful will come from all the madness and forcibly removed digits.
Yet, Edgerton’s direction and Matthew Stone’s story don’t scratch at truths as much as fictions. There are no grand revelations or, for that matter, any lines with great weight. Instead, we get to watch the characters march through their own set of lies in pursuit of shallow, selfish ends. We can see through their attempts at deception because we go back and forth in time to get the whole story. Or at least, big chunks of it.
The gaps are a necessary part of the puzzle, which will keep the novice Sherlocks busy piecing elements together. They also give us a brief moment to recalibrate and get our moral bearings in the midst of some grotesque violence.
Edgerton’s direction and Matthew Stone’s story don’t scratch at truths as much as fictions. There are no grand revelations or, for that matter, any lines with great weight. Instead, we get to watch the characters march through their own set of lies in pursuit of shallow, selfish ends.
To director Edgerton’s credit, he doesn’t really overplay the nasty bits. The same can’t be said for his actor brother, who goes full Dick as Richard. ‘Sleazy’ doesn’t really even begin to describe it because he’s got a squeaky intelligence to him that makes his conniving feel corporate. He’s the recognizable jerk at the gym, the broker with a big mouth and a foreign sports car, the cannabis entrepreneur with Wall Street backers.
He’s a lizard in a tailored suit, but he has nothing on Elaine — the viper who will curl around your ankles and work her way up your pant leg, looking for the perfect place to bite. She’s the classic bitch character with femme fatale mechanics, but the in the hands of Charlize Theron, she’s practically Biblical. Like I said, she knows where the fruit is hanging.
She may also be the smartest person in the room. So even when she’s being cruel, we almost like her because she’s using the ugliest truths as a weapon. She’s playing with the pretty blond stereotype to her advantage, and no one can do that as well as Theron.
The model for Dior has a unique physical presence in the frame, and it’s not just her stature or her perfectly photogenic face. She brings a hard edge that is both intimidating and seductive at the same time. More importantly, she owns it. The self-possession is what makes Elaine such a blast to watch as she slithers through the mess left by the men.
Harold’s denouement is where we get stuck emotionally, because he’s a good guy, and he doesn’t deserve a bullet in the head. So we latch on to the dramatic bait and go for the ride, getting yanked across the time line, knowing we’re getting reeled in for the inevitable, bloody finale.
The whole thing could have felt like an arduous fight, but Edgerton finds the right tone, and it makes all the difference. Too slick and you come off as gratuitous. Too earnest and you have to cast Liam Neeson. Edgerton goes down a clean line of drama, giving his actors a chance to phrase the humour together.
As a result, the movie plays more like a screwball comedy than a violent action thriller, though it contains many pieces of the latter and hardly any of the former. There are moments that are laugh-out-loud funny, but like the title itself suggests, you’re laughing at them — not with them.
THE EX-PRESS, March 9, 2018