Admittedly, movies in the vein of Nash Edgerton’s Gringo aren’t always my cup of tea. I can’t really explain why, outside of possibly my difficulty in relating to and empathizing with criminals that are also ostensibly the protagonist(s) of the film. I took a chance on this one, anyway, due to the strong cast and fairly promising trailer and while the film won’t make my year-end Top 25, I found it to be mostly a good enough experience to warrant the time invested.
David Oyelowo plays Harold Soyenka, a middle-management office worker who longs for little more than love and respect. In a desperate bid for both, he finds himself embroiled in the criminal dealings of his employer Richard Rusk and Rusk’s associate Elaine Markinson. The deeper Harold dives, the more he finds himself becoming both increasingly out of his element as well as expendable.
What I appreciated most about Gringo is that Harold is unquestionably a good man. He’s suffering from a “crisis of faith” as he, himself, comes to realize. But so often these crime films have no one for the audience to relate to or cheer for – no audience anchor. Not always. And, as far as these everyman-breaks-bad-but-gets-in-over-his-head stories go, this one isn’t particularly groundbreaking or atypical. But Oyelowo provides an energetic boost to the film, playing a role unlike his norm, and is endlessly endearing and entertaining. When he sings along to a very famous song while driving alone in his car near the beginning of the film, I couldn’t help but think that I might be watching one of the most relatable movie moments in quite some time.
The rest of the cast do their thing, as well, each playing an essential part in the overall scheme. Like Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton is also playing against type and seems to be enjoying himself. Both his Richard and Theron’s Elaine are joyfully sleazy and are a blast to watch. One almost feels bad laughing at some of their cutting one-liners. Almost. But the two of them are simply having too much fun to not jump in there and enjoy it alongside them. So, I’m guilt-free.
Sharlto Copley also gets to ham it up, and he’s great (as always) as Richard’s conflicted brother Mitch. Mitch doesn’t exactly have any deep-seated convictions but once he meets Harold, that might just begin to change. And then Amanda Seyfried plays Sunny, a young woman who is sympathetic to Harold’s plight but also in danger of following down a similar path. Both drive home the idea that Harold has a positive effect on those around him; he’s just too lacking in self-awareness to realize it. In their interactions with Oyelowo, both Copley and Seyfried add just a little something extra to the overall package, helping to prevent the rather unimaginative narrative from feeling too stale.
And if the narrative is all one focuses on, I can understand perhaps not caring for the film all too much. Again, not because it’s poor but because it’s standard. The real fun in the film is in the little things. It’s in the characters and the performances and the one-liners and the interactions and the brief moments that happen quickly, but also often. This is where the film shines, but the viewer has to be willing to look at the trees and not just the forest.
Ultimately, I completely understand how Gringo could be a take-it-or-leave-it film. I enjoyed the performances, the dialogue, and the character work. The cast completely commits to making these characters enjoyable, memorable, and believable and they all clearly relish in their roles, especially Oyelowo, Theron, and Edgerton. I laughed a few times, chuckled even more often, and generally had more fun than I expected to have. But it’s also a film I don’t expect to watch, again. The narrative wasn’t fresh enough and the film unfortunately does start to drag towards the end. There can only be so many twists before they begin to become somewhat tiresome.
So, much like A Wrinkle in Time, what we have in Gringo is a mediocre film (though I personally enjoyed it more than A Wrinkle in Time). Fans of any of these great actors who want to see them having a good time or those who truly enjoy the crime caper subgenre of film can probably give it a go without worrying about it falling flat. But those who absolutely need a compelling, original narrative in order to become engaged should seek out other options.
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