Movie Beat: David Oyelowo shines in surprisingly entertaining “Gringo”
By Jenniffer Wardell
Rated R for language throughout, violence and sexual content
Screenplay by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone, story by Matthew Stone
Directed by Nash Edgerton
Starring David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried, Sharlto Copley and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
“Gringo,” and many of the characters in it, are smarter than the trailers give them credit for.
Though commercials make the movie look like one of those slapstick comedies where the hapless hero accidentally gets himself into more and more trouble, it’s really more of a crime farce where no one is who they seem to be and everyone triple-crosses each other. Though it takes too long to really get the ball rolling, David Oyelowo is enough of a delight to keep you holding on until things kick into high gear. By the time the credits roll, the movie has become a surprisingly hilarious, ultimately satisfying little cat and mouse game where no one’s entirely sure who the cat is.
The movie focuses on mild-manned U.S. businessman Harold Soyinka (Oyelowo), who has followed his boss and supposed friend to Mexico for a business meeting with their manufacturer. What Soyinka doesn’t know is that the meeting is actually to cut off the cartel leader the boss has previously been selling drugs to, a decision that angers the cartel leader. They decide that Soyinka is the one they need to kidnap in order to get the formula, but other players are already involved who complicate the situation even further.
Oyelowo is the unquestioned jewel of the movie, and if nothing else comes from this I hope Hollywood sees that they need to get the man into more comedies, stat. He’s got a wonderful physical abandon and sense of comic timing that harks back to some of the greatest slapstick performers of all time, along with an absolutely necessary sense of fearlessness. Most of the funniest moments of the movie are directly to his credit.
At the same time, he also manages to remain wonderfully sympathetic. Oyelowo makes his character seem like a real person caught in a ridiculous situation rather than a mere caricature, and even when he’s very obviously making a mistake it’s hard not to root for him. You want him to make it out of all of this okay, no matter what it takes.
Charlize Theron does the man-eater role she’s been employing so regularly lately, with an odd thread of vulnerability which doesn’t make a lot of sense but it surprisingly interesting to watch. Sharlto Copely is both a little terrifying and weirdly sympathetic, a combo that also ends up proving pretty interesting.
Joel Edgerton, brother of the movie’s director, is clearly enjoying himself playing the unquestioned villain of the movie. He’s a very particular type of bad guy who’s all too relevant these days, the rich guy who’s entirely willing to lie and shaft everyone else in order to add even more money to his bank account, and Edgerton communicates every ounce of the character’s thoughtless arrogance.
Is the movie up to Elmore Leonard’s level? Probably not. But if you don’t mind a little murder mixed in with your laughs, it’s a surprisingly fun way to spend a couple of hours.