Friday, 16 March 2018

Film Review - Gringo (15)

Why do I always get screwed for doing my job?
With Gringo I find myself in the same situation as when I'd watched Downsizing back in January. Here is a film that I genuinely, unambiguously enjoyed, fully expecting that I'd be swelling the reviewing community's huge chorus of praise. Well I'm not, because there isn't one. Gringo has achieved a dire 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a decidedly mediocre 6.0 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). The world is not in love with this movie. I'm cheering for it all on my own. Well, superior discernment can be a burden, but it's one I'm willing to carry. 
The 'gringo' of the title is Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo), mid-level employee of a US pharmaceutical company, who accompanies his bosses to help tie up their business in Mexico. Industrious and loyal to a fault, Harold has no clue of the corporation's shadier dealings with certain dubious Mexican businessmen. He does have a gnawing suspicion, however, that the future of the business may not include any place for him. Left isolated south of the border with his world rapidly crumbling, the usually mild-mannered Harold resorts to desperate, ill-considered measures to shore up his situation. And from there things start to get very messy indeed.
The chief merits of Gringo from the start are its intelligence and wit. Dismissed by some as a throwaway crime comedy, this is a dark and often deeply funny satire on big business and its propensity for steamrolling the little guy, if he proves no longer essential to requirements. It also delivers a vigorous stab into the heart of the American Dream. Nigerian immigrant Harold has staked all on the promise that hard work and adherence to the rules will be rewarded. Not so - and his reaction when faced with the grim truth is both painful and funny.
Britain's Oyelowo (so impressive as Martin Luther King in 2014's Selma) is a comic delight in the central role. He engages sympathy from the start, something that only increases the further he sinks out of his depth. Harold is the sincere and righteous man, who has been pushed beyond his limit; the unleashing of his pent-up frustration is a deliciously funny sight to behold, never at the expense of the character's pathos. If you're not rooting for him thirty minutes into the film, seriously - what's the problem?
Nor is Oyelowo shouldering the comedy on his own. Joel Egerton and Charlize Theron are a priceless double-act as Harold's truly horrible bosses Richard and Elaine. Their characters are both hilariously-drawn pre-Weinsteinian caricatures, but played with sufficient conviction to make them believable. In a film-long contest for who can be most entertainingly despicable, Theron steals it. Props too for District 9's Sharlto Copley for his turn as a morally conflicted mercenary, who plunges into the rapidly escalating Mexican fray. Always good value, his exchanges with Oyelowo inject heart and humour into what is a sporadically violent ride.
For those who say Gringo is muddled, well - I had no problem with the storytelling and loved its unpredictability. For others who criticise certain sub-plots, I thought it all tied together, thematically at any rate. And for the misguided individuals who dismissed it as sub-par Tarantino, I say it's written with flair and in possession of a moral centre that Quentin T's films lack. Absorbing and consistently funny, this rates with the best crime comedies I've seen in years. And in the flailing form of Harold, it has that something extra.
Gut Reaction: Impressed by its classiness, loving its protagonist and lol-ing a lot. (The running reference involving carrots and bananas is a particular joy.)

Where Are the Women?: Theron shows impeccable comic credentials and Amanda Seyfried shows up to remind Harold that the world isn't all about scumbags. It is a boys-y film though.

Ed's Verdict: 8/10. More satire than most bloody crime capers, but equally more depth. And its seasoned dramatic actors deliver terrific comic performances. I'm proud to be this film's lonely cheerleader.

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