Movie Review: ‘GRINGO’ – bad things happen to good guy in OK movie
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
GRINGO is at its core a deeply cynical film, taking every opportunity to deconstruct an immigrant’s idealistic view of the American Dream. Harold (a irresistibly sweet David Oyelowo) is established as instantly sympathetic character who just wants to succeed in life by following what he was taught as a boy from Nigeria: If you come to America and follow the rules, good things will happen. This could not be farther from the truth for our poor protagonist.
Harold works hard in a dead end job at a pharmaceutical company while his wife, Bonnie (Thandie Newton) drains their bank accounts and has an affair with his truly despicable boss, Richard (Joel Edgerton) who plans to fire him any day now. If this doesn’t exactly sound like the groundwork for a particularly funny film, that’s because it isn’t. What comedic value is there is forced to fight an uphill battle every step of the way.
After discovering all that has been kept from him on a company trip to Mexico, Harold decides to go off the grid and stage his own kidnapping and keep the ransom money for himself. The irony is that Richard just cancelled their company’s kidnapping insurance and a drug cartel actually is trying to kidnap Harold. This setup absolutely has potential for a fun time, but only sticks the landing a fraction of the time.
What keeps the film from being completely unwatchable is its talented cast. Edgerton colossally succeeds at portraying the embodiment of the world’s sleaziest boss and only becomes increasingly unlikeable throughout the film with not a single redemptive quality to his name. Alongside him is Elaine (Charlize Theron), a foul-mouthed co-executive for the company with whom Richard is also sleeping. While Edgerton is entirely unlikeable as Richard, Theron thankfully brings a refreshing nuance to her character that could have been little more than a stone faced ice-queen. One scene in particular reveals the emotions she forces herself to suppress in order to climb the corporate ladder. This adds a much needed sense of humanity to the role that encourages the audience to view her as the lesser of two evils.
When it comes to tone, GRINGO suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. At one moment we’re treated to a farcical romp full of misunderstandings and coincidental circumstances, only to be assaulted by shocking, albeit brief, instances of graphic violence. Comparisons to other dark comedies such as BURN AFTER READING (2008) and THE NICE GUYS (2016) are sure to abound, but there is one major difference that keeps GRINGO from working as well as these other films: Harold’s biggest crime is abstaining from crime. While the characters in BURN AFTER READING are sympathetic to be sure, they deserve their respective comeuppances. Harold is simply a victim of the crimes of everyone around him which causes the film to come across as mean spirited and cruel.
GRINGO is a flawed experience that probably could have used more time in the writer’s room. It has some decent laughs, a fantastic cast, and a valid point to make on how our culture rewards people who don’t play by the rules, but unfortunately fails to package them into an enjoyable movie.
GRINGO is now playing in theaters.