2018, R, 110 mins.
David Oyelowo as Harold Soyinka / Amanda Seyfried as Sunny / Paris Jackson as Penny / Diego Cataño as Ronaldo / Joel Edgerton as Richard Rusk / Charlize Theron as Elaine Markinson / Thandie Newton as Bonnie Soyinka / Bashir Salahuddin as Stu / Melonie Diaz as Mia / Harry Treadaway as Miles / Hernan Mendoza as Celerino Sanchez / Alan Ruck as Jerry / Sharlto Copley as Mitch Rusk
Directed by Nash Edgerton / Written by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone
The new Amazon Studios production GRINGO is a crime comedy that's so tonally schizophrenic throughout that I left my screening having no real idea what kind of movie it was really trying to be.
directed by Australian filmmaker Nash Edgerton - the actor/stuntman turned
director that made one of the best least seen noir thrillers of the last
decade in 2008's THE SQUARE - GRINGO
feels like it's made up of the better regurgitated pieces of previous
films that it's trying to heavily borrow from.
Like an aesthetic marriage of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen
Brothers, but done without a modest semblance of narrative and stylistic
cohesion, Edgerton's caper never manages to generate ample
interest in ways it wants to. Instead,
we are given a grade A quality cast that seems to be giving it their
relative all with a screenplay that seems depressingly flat,
lifeless, and never once begs for performers of their caliber.
ambitious, though, in trying to craft a globetrotting yarn that - albeit
unsuccessfully - tries to fuse dark humor and serious pathos in its
underling tale of corporate business and the drug trafficking game.
There's also something inherently amusing about its plot, that of a
decent man that tries to play ethically by the rules in life and work, but faces
endlessly amounts of personal failures, which leads to him faking his own
kidnapping to stick it to those that are trying to wrong him when he's at
his most downtrodden and desperate. There's
something invitingly madcap and macabre about GRINGO's narrative, and the
manner that it tries to find humor in one poor soul's emotional collapse
could have made for a real nail biting social and business satire.
Unfortunately, Edgerton and company never generate enough laughs
with the strange material, nor does it come off as an effectively edgy and
dark. More often
than not, GRINGO comes off as a film so inherently messy and aimless that
it requires a roadmap to viewers to make some sense of the whole.
The bright spot
in this whole failed enterprise is David Oyelowo, whom previously wowed
over audiences and critics with his performance as Martin Luther King in SELMA.
Here, he once again carries the film he occupies, but this time
plays a sad sack of a human being driven to mental implosion when the
world around him has dealt him a decidedly bad deck.
He plays Harold, who works for Promethium Pharmaceuticals under the
scrutinizing and watchful eye of his high ranking boss, Richard (Joel
Edgerton, the more famous and well known of the Edgerton brothers).
This CEO is a real piece of work, who's established very early on
as a duplicitous minded sex hound that's not afraid to get busy with his
second in command, Elaine (Charlize Theron), during the middle of a work
day and at the office. Elaine
is no innocent babe in the woods, seeing as she willfully uses her
sex appeal and aggressively potty mouthed nature to have her way with just
about any high profile client.
When we are
introduced to the mild mannered and noble minded Harold it's revealed via
his accountant that he's flat broke because of his wife's (Thandie Newton)
reckless spending. When he
arrives at work the same day he's informed by Richard that the two of them
and Elaine will be flying to Mexico to deal with the merger of their
company with another, but it soon becomes apparent that it's no innocent
merger meeting, mostly because Richard's company is in bed with a very
powerful and dangerous drug cartel. With
the full understanding that his wife has plunged him into economical and
emotional despair (she's also cheating on him with Richard), not to
mention that he grows to learn just how disposable he is for the company,
Harold decides to fake his own kidnapping to extort money from the bosses
he thinks are trying to ruin him. Unfortunately,
Richard's and Elaine's dealings with the aforementioned cartel are catching
up with them, and Harold's staged abduction eventually morphs into
something more vile that legitimately threatens his well being and his
If there is one
solitary reason to sit through GRINGO then it would be for Oyelowo's
rather winning performance as his human punching bag that grows
increasingly browbeaten by the mental and physical toil that his trip
dumps on him. Especially
after seeing him give such performances of calm spoken authority before,
it's a modest pleasure to see the British actor cut loose and a craft a
portrait of his jaded and vulnerable protagonist that traverses down every
emotional extreme. Watching
Harold get repeatedly spit on over and over again in GRINGO allows for
the film to maintain some semblance of audience sympathy and buy in with
his nightmarishly plight. Even
when the scripting veers way, way off course to the point of inspiring
baffling confusion, Oyelow's work here is the glue that keeps the off
balance and all over the map GRINGO together.
You truly feel for Harold as a innocent dope that pathetically gets
in over his head with just about everything around him.
I only wished,
though, that GRINGO spent more time fleshing out the myriad of characters
that surround Harold, some of which are sketchily developed, whereas
others come off like they haphazardly got dropped off from a whole other
movie altogether. Joel
Edgerton is capable of being one of our finest understated actors, but as
his lecherous CEO he never really comes off as a tangible and scary
threat. His partner in crime
in Theron chews scenery with a bit more relish and enthusiasm, but you
rarely gain an impression of who Elaine really is, where she came from,
and how she ended up with Richard. Theron
has a field day in a couple of key scenes, but she's given such a one note
character on the page that it's a miracle that the production even nabbed
the Oscar winning actress in the first place.
Thandie Newton seems wasted in a terrible throwaway role as
Harold's cheating wife, and Richard's brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley) - a
former mercenary that's trying to go straight, but is brought back over to
the dark side in trying to deal with his sibling's problem with Richard -
has a few moments of inspired lunacy that plays up to the actor's
strengths, but is also a woefully underwritten character that feels
hesitantly inserted into the film. And I
don't have the foggiest idea why Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway show up here
as a traveling American couple that inexplicably get caught up in all of
Scattershot would be the best way to describe the ultimate failings of GRINGO. The plot bobs and weaves awkwardly from one scene to the next - sometimes punctuated with scenes of barbaric violence that seem out of place with the comedic moments that build up to them - and, in the initial stages, it takes literally forever for the movie to actually build to something and command out investment. Sometimes, Edgerton uses flashy style and non-linear scripting in an effort to cover up for the overall storytelling deficiencies on display (the flashback structure to the film also does it no favors, only exacerbating its fractured and dysfunctional nature). And when all is said and done, GRINGO never comes together as either a funny comedy or a gripping crime thriller; it always seems stuck in neutral gear trying to find a way to jump start the story into drive and keep momentum moving. And considering that I thought THE SQUARE was one of the best films of its respective year as a mercilessly effective thriller, I was genuinely pumped to see what Nash Edgerton would do next behind the camera. Both he and the impressively accomplished cast around him seem woefully overqualified for the jumbled up, poorly developed, focus-free, and unavoidably forgettable mess that is GRINGO.