Director: Nash Edgerton
Screenplay: Anthony Tambakis, Matthew Stone
Starring: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, Paris Jackson
Runtime: 110 Minutes
Had emerged at an earlier historical point, say the mid-90s, there's every possibility that under the right circumstances it could have been able to transcend its status as a pitch-black crime comedy that gets by mostly by the work of its cast.
The film stars David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron (who also produced) and Joel Edgerton, and follows mild-mannered businessman Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo) who is sent to Mexico to deliver an experimental marijuana pill for a pharmaceutical company in the US run by his two vicious employers. When he is kidnapped by a drug cartel he must escape alongside a hired mercenary played by Sharlto Copley.
There's, of course, a lot more going on to it than first appears, but many of the major developments occur early on due to backstabbing and ulterior motives being revealed. But it doesn't end up doing more with its premise once the bigger hands are dealt in its first act in it bluffs its way through most of the remainder with distractions and side characters that end up going pretty much nowhere.
This is the directorial debut of Australian filmmaker Nash Edgerton (whose brother also stars), who has mostly made his name as a stuntman in various action pictures. His visual eye is quite strong but nowhere near as vibrant as the posters might suggest, although the few stunts that there are feel well managed.
But he's working from a screenplay that has no firm grip in what exactly it's meant to be beyond a broad nihilistic depiction of shitty people doing shitty things to one another in a vaguely exotic environment. One that has really been explored in better material, but also engaged with its politics in a more interesting way.
The plot is a convoluted rubbish tip of ideas and plot detours that don't really lead anywhere, but the shallow characters don't help at all and they mostly come through thanks to some committed performances. But characters like Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway’s drug mules and Thandie Newton's cheating wife get nothing to do but way too much screen time.
Oyelowo makes the most of his screaming caricature of a lead, with an exaggerated accent and high-pitched scream mostly balanced out by his level of dedication to selling it. Copley continues to disappear into the roles he possesses and delivers on the films best and funniest theological exchange. But Edgerton and Theron walk away with every scene they're in, the latter especially who spits her cruel lines with a gleeful venom and reckless abandon in the best way she can.
Gringo could have worked better were it in the hands of people who could better balance the material with the character work - the Coen's could have knocked this out in their sleep. It's sporadically funny but really just forgettable kind of dull, to the point where not even its leading heavyweights can save it.