Harold (David Oyelowo) has worked hard all of his life, and from the outside his life seems to be perfect. When he travels to Mexico with his shady bosses Elaine (Charlize Theron) and Richard (Hoel Edgerton) however, he quickly realises that his job is on the line, he is drowning in debt and his wife (Thandie Newton) is about to leave him. Seeing a chance to start a new life, Harold fakes his own kidnapping with the hope of cashing in on the insurance policy the company has on him. Little does he realise that there are a lot of ulterior motives going on, and Harold’s life may be more in danger than he first thought.
Having made a career for himself playing roles such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, D.A. Lawrence in A Most Violent Year and Louis Gaines in The Butler, it is surprising and utterly refreshing to see David Oyelowo turn his hand to comedy in its darkest, blackest form, and come out as the best thing in a muddled movie.
It is clear that Oyelowo is having the time of his life playing Harold, who he plays as a sweet and gentle character driven to the edge of his patience when everything goes wrong for him. Oyelowo makes sure that Harold is a rounded, relatable character, then adds the manic comedy on top, making Harold an incredibly successful character. Elsewhere Charlize Theron returns to dark and twisted comedy with Elaine, an unscrupulous woman who has no problem stepping over people to get what she wants, and Joel Edgerton plays Richard, a horrible person who, of course, has managed to do well. The rest of the cast features Thandie Newton – who is wasted in her role – Paris Jackson in her film debut, Amanda Seyfried, Harry Treadaway and Sharlto Copley.
The screenplay, written by Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone tries to be a screwball black comedy, and on some levels it works, but in bringing in what feels like a million subplots, the writers soon find themselves contending with plot holes, characters that definitely do not need to be there and a manic feel that seems to come from the panic to make the script work, rather than the action on screen.
Director Nash Edgerton – yes, Joel’s brother – does well with the first half of the film, but struggles with the pacing throughout, making it feel drawn out and overly long. The film takes far too long to get where it is going, and Edgerton often struggles to bring everything together in a way that makes any kind of narrative sense. There are characters that do not need to be in the film, and so clutter it up, and there are times when the audience – as well as Harold – are left wondering just what is actually going on.
In all, Gringo is a film worth seeing just for David Oyelowo’s wonderful, zany, screwball performance. The rest of the film struggles under the weight of drawn out pacing, a muddled script, plot holes and silliness for the sake of it.