Starring Charlize Theron. Rated 14A
Gringo has so many moving parts it threatens to spin horribly out of control and crash.
Aussie director Nash Edgerton manages—just—to keep his hands on the wheel in this beyond-black comedy-thriller. But you have to admire the guy’s cojones. Among the many explosive areas he veers into are—in no particular order—corporate greed, the pending legalization of cannabis, Mexican cartels, corruption in the pharmaceutical industry, and race and class disparities.
This requires the interweaving of several story lines, a plethora of characters, and trips back and forth across the Mexican border. The result is an ambitious, frenzied, and nasty slice of neonoir action, but it doesn’t resolve it all smartly enough to stay with you after the credits.
At its heart, Gringo is a standard tale of an underdog who’s been dealt a deluxe shit sandwich. Harold (David Oyelowo) is nose-deep in debt, the pharmaceutical company he works for is about to get sold, and his marriage is falling apart. Almost incidental to all this, he’s a Nigerian immigrant—a fact that complicates the way he’s being treated and makes him much more interesting than the average antihero. Still, he’s too clueless and spineless to really root for.
Harold is at the mercy of two ruthless bosses, Richard (Joel Edgerton, the director’s brother) and Elaine (a plunging-blouse-and-chunky-jewellery-wearing Charlize Theron using sex the way a shark uses teeth). The pair are producing cannabis pills in Mexico, where they’re working with a cartel. And soon after they send Harold there on assignment, they receive a ransom demand for his kidnapping.
A mad chase ensues, and the plot intertwines—but never satisfyingly—with that of two young, poor American drug mules (Harry Treadaway and Amanda Seyfried) headed to Mexico.
There’s more—much more. Suffice it to say there will be car chases, gun fights, and random dismemberments. Oh, and a split-second appearance by Paris Jackson.
Authentically funny moments include a sadistic cartel boss who likes to quote “Let It Be” and Theron spitting out lines like “I would rather give that guy a rim job than eat at Dairy Queen.” In this context, don’t expect deep commentary on the drug war or Mexican-American relations. Gringo is shooting for an action-cranked Quentin Tarantino feel here, but even the Pulp Fiction maestro knows the importance of redeeming qualities.