Gringo is the second feature film from director and stunt actor Nash Edgerton (brother of Joel Edgerton), who delivers a confident action-comedy that boasts a comedically tragic performance from David Oyelowo and tense action sequences but ultimately struggles with maintaining a cohesive tone. Gringo is a wild albeit unsatisfying ride.
Oyelowo portrays hapless businessman Harold Soyinka, a do-gooder who finds himself in a heap of trouble after the pharmaceutical company he works for sends him on a business trip to Mexico. A series of events ensure that Soyinka will not be returning home anytime soon. To add insult to injury, his ruthless bosses Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron) deem Soyinka to be disposable and his wife (Thandie Newton) is having an affair. Eventually, Richard desperately hires his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a reformed mercenary, to return Soyinka to the States, but things are about to go from bad to worse.
In recent years, Oyelowo has made a name for himself as an accomplished dramatic actor with critically- acclaimed performances in Selma, The Butler, and Queen of Katwe, but Gringo is an opportunity for the British-Nigerian actor to let loose, and he does so with gusto. He’s at once hilarious and sympathetic, carefully juxtaposing the absurd with the genuinely heart-wrenching. When Soyinka hits rock bottom, the weight of his devastation is palpable. But, surprisingly, Theron and Joel Edgerton undermine Oyelowo’s grounded performance. Their characters twirl their mustaches too frequently and often casually spout racist and sexist dialogue to signal to the audience that, yes, they are indeed terrible people.
Therein lies the problem with Gringo. At its best, it channels Joel and Ethan Coen with a dash of Quentin Tarantino’s visual finesse, but it’s sometimes downright silly, more closely resembling The Hangover than The Big Lebowski. This uneasy union between cartoonish buffoonery and violent realism makes for jarring, cringe-inducing sequences (Theron’s Elaine insensitively pantomiming a deaf person or Newton’s tasteless ending transformation, for example).
Amanda Seyfried, who is always radiant, is totally wasted and only factors into the plot to momentarily provide relief for the desperate Soyinka (her boyfriend, portrayed by Harry Treadaway, is a similarly unnecessary addition). On the other hand, Copley’s Mitch is a welcome diversion, although his dialogue is sometimes too clever. Just as with Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, Copley always finds a way to shine in an ensemble.
After plenty of twists and turns, the ending wraps up tidily. The bad are punished (with one notable exception) and the good find peace. The ending’s final notes are cloyingly saccharine for a film that desperately wants to be edgy. Again, the mixed-up tone leaves much to be desired.
Verdict: 2.5 out of 5
Gringo is ultimately a mildly entertaining but disjointed film. Oyelowo once again proves to be a captivating presence, elevating every scene he’s in, but the winking script and cliché villains undermine what could have been a memorable dark action-comedy.