Gringo is a black comedy – a dark exploration of the baser instincts of human nature mixed with a wry, ironic take on what it all means through a laser sharp lens of humor. Apparently, I am one of the approximately 43% of people (per Rotten Tomatoes) who appreciates the perspective. If you’re seeking a sometimes hilarious, sometimes mean-spirited, often accurately critical view of society, then this David Oyelowo vehicle is just what you’re looking to rent this weekend.
Harold (Oyelowo) is something out of a Chaucer sonnet – a cuckolded man who is also the laughingstock of the leadership team of his pharmaceutical company. He’s too emotionally and mentally chaste to see that he is missing the literal gorilla in the room – a reference his wife (Thandie Newton) makes to The Gorilla Experiment. He’s missed that his bosses, Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron), are selling drugs illegally across the border, and that his wife is sleeping with someone else while bleeding their bank account dry. He’s been told he’s to settle for carrots (instead of bananas), another less-than-veiled comparison to Harold as the black man being run around the world like a trained monkey.As his relationships personally and professionally crash and burn, Harold tries to break through the noose that has closed silently and stealthily around his neck.
While Harold’s nice guy persona reflects well the off-screen Oyelowo, he’s played such solemn individuals, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., chess coach Robert Katende, and King Seretse Khama, that Harold’s amusing bumbling is against the grain of what we expect of him. Edgerton’s brother Nash directs the madness, but the crazed greed of Rusk and Markinson gives the film its frenzied energy … and the critique on the way the world works, with dashes of Sharlto Copley as Rusk’s mercenary-turned-aid worker thrown in to spice things up.
The world expects that big money will win, that companies always somehow survive with their crass, inhumane disregard for individuals and their feelings. The world expects that nice guys like Harold get run over like roadkill by the likes of Markinson’s pageant-driven, foul-mouthed frustration, a woman having adapted to using her wily charms to make her way in the masculine world of lies, deceit, and power. The world might be right … unless Harold’s pure-hearted novice can survive kidnapping, cartels, and, worst of all, American apathy.
Gringo is the film where nearly everyone is miserable … and you just hope someone finds happiness, or at least redemption, in the end. Thankfully, for Harold, he meets another American named Sunny (Amanda Seyfried). Maybe the two of them can figure out how to help good people get to the top of the pile, if they survive all of the bad stuff in the way.