Review: Gringo

Score: B-

Director: Nash Edgerton

Cast: David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Sharlto Copley

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rated: R

Deeply cynical, hugely problematic and often very funny, Gringo is one of the stranger mainstream releases of 2018.

At times a corporate satire, a drug comedy, an action-packed thriller and a grim crime drama, Gringo is definitely a mess, but it’s got a whole lot to recommend.

David Oyelowo, often penned in to historical dramas like Selma, A United Kingdom and Queen of Katwe, gets a chance to show his comedic chops as Harold, a put-upon middle manager in the midst of personal and professional crises. He’s a dutiful worker bee whose adherence to the rules has gotten him nowhere. He’s likely to be pushed out after a merger goes through and his wife (Thandie Newton, given nothing to do) is more interested in racking up credit card debt than showing him affection.

His bosses (Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton) won’t think twice about selling him out. When Harold is kidnapped in Mexico, they think more about ways they can get out of paying the ransom than trying to bring him home safely.

But Harold is smarter and tougher than he lets on, which leads to clever twists I won’t reveal here. Gringo has way too much going on, including a tentative romance between Harold’s bosses. Both Theron and Edgerton are excellent playing truly reprehensible people dancing around their mutual hatred/attraction. There’s also an extraction expert/mercenary played by Sharlto Copley, who’s willing to change his mission from Harold’s salvation to his execution for the right price.

Gringo can be wildly funny and horrifyingly violent, often in the same scene. A cartel leader tests new associates by asking them their favorite Beatles album, which makes for funny pop culture discussion, but then he’ll have his thugs cut one of their toes off with a hedge clipper. And it’s got a surprisingly deep conversation about God that’s interrupted when one of the participants gets hit by a car.

Inconsistency is its biggest problem as a movie, but its depiction of Mexico is arguably even more troublesome. Nearly every Mexican character is either a criminal or wants to be one, looking to rip off or kill any Americans who cross their paths. Almost all the characters in Gringo are bad or truly awful, but that’s not an excuse.

With its cast of characters willing to kill or compromise their integrity for a whole bunch of nothing, I was reminded of the Coen Brothers’ CIA farce Burn After Reading. With its Mexican setting and big movie stars in a surreal black comedy, I was reminded of The Mexican. While both films had initial success, both were misunderstood at the time. Gringo is closer in quality to that Julia Roberts vehicle than the underrated Coen Brothers classic, but they share a weird vibe.

Gringo is certainly not destined to become a comedy classic, but it’s a much deeper, weirder and funnier movie than its zany trailer lets on. I’ll take an overstuffed movie like this any day over a pat comedy sequel.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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