The film Gringo, directed by Nash Edgarton and starring David Oyelowo, Josh Edgarton, and Charlize Theron, is an action-comedy that examines the question of what the American Dream is and what it represents for each individual person.
The film begins with Richard Rusk (Joel Edgarton), the boss at a major pharmaceutical company, fielding a call from Harold Soyenka (Oyelowo), who is desperately asking for help because he is stranded in Mexico. Rusk is reluctant to help, although it is obvious that he is part of the reason for his capture.
The movie flashes back a few days, highlighting the fact that Harold is a by the book “yes man” who asks few questions and goes by the books on virtually everything, who poses little threat to anyone he comes across in his daily routine. Harold, a Nigerian immigrant, is in serious debt, mostly because his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) has expended their bank accounts and put them into the negative. When Rusk and fellow corporate bigwig Elaine Muskinson (Theron) have to go to Mexico to stop selling surplus drugs to a cartel and start pushing a marijuana pill for the company, they need Harold for access and credibility.
The trip becomes chaos when Harold goes missing and Rusk and Elaine must head back to Chicago without their employee. When this happens, Harold must try to figure out who is going to help him and who is going to sell him out or kill him, and that’s when the action picks up. While stranded in Mexico, his path continuously crosses with a young man named Miles (Harry Treadaway), who is tasked with trying to extract the formula for the pill from the company, and his girlfriend Sunny (Amanda Seifreid), who thinks that they are just on a romantic vacation.
The movie starts out with the feeling of a nice guys finish last comedy straight out of the 1980s, but eventually builds into an action movie that has Harold controlling (purposely or not) the fate of his employers and many of the people around him. Finding out that many of the people whom he had considered close to him had betrayed him, he gets intertwined in international business, racketeering, and kidnapping without having much of an idea of what to do as each step happens.
Oyelowo gives a great performance as Harold, who unwittingly becomes the pawn in a war between Big Pharm and a Mexican drug cartel led by a man named the Black Panther (Carlos Corona) who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Oyewolo’s Harold brings comedy, charm, and the feeling of the consummate underdog to the role.
Edgarton’s Rusk and Theron’s Elaine epitomize the greed and arrogance of a prototypical one percenter villain. Only caring about the bottom line and winning, the characters provide a good foil to the character of Harold.
Other supporting characters drive the story along as well, including Rusk’s brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), an ex-mercenary-turned-humanitarian who Rusk asks to obtain Harold. Mitch brings much comic relief and over the top bravado to the movie. Newton’s Bonnie becomes a major plot point through the movie, and the young couple of Miles and Sunny are also very good. With small but important roles as easily persuaded business men working with Rusk and Theron, seasoned comedic actors Alan Ruck and Kenneth Choi portray good caricatures of how people can be lured into terrible decisions.
Overall, the film is entertaining and well-made. The characters, although over the top, are relatable and funny. With Oyelowo driving the movie, the other characters follow in his wake. It is definitely worth watching, and could take some of the levity of the high concept films that have dominated the Oscar season.