Unbelievable Gringo

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

Gringo is a welcome respite from superhero and based-on-a-true-story movies. It is about a guy that has been unlucky most of his life but makes up for lost serendipity in a couple of days. Christian Tesfaye found the protagonist unique but the plot fantastical. He awards 6 out of 10 stars.

Hollywood has lately been revelling in reminding us that reality is just as exciting and interesting as fiction. Just look at some of the films that won Oscar nominations for Best Picture this year.

There was Darkest Hour, about Winston Churchill, Dunkirk, a miraculous evacuation during World War II, and The Post, the Washington Post’s attempt to have government secrets published.

Gringo is different. It is a welcome deviation from what has become the norm. It had become too easy for filmmakers to show a set of events that do not seem realistic but are. It is not that reality is not interesting; it is only that the suspension of disbelief the movies are supposed to give us will be taken for granted.

It takes less ingenuity to conceptualise and execute a film about the first moon landing than one about a man who tries to scam his way into space, as in Gattaca.

Gringo is not that good a movie but at least it does not simply try to recycle reality but creates a world where real ambitions and emotions conflate.

The film stars David Oyelowo as Harold, a down-on-his-luck businessman. He works for a friend, Richard (Joel Edgerton), who continually makes fun of him, alongside another colleague, Elaine (Charlize Theron), that hates him. Add to this a wife that is clearly cheating on him, not to mention that he is going bankrupt.

On a business trip to Mexico, he is exposed to the above ugly truths. His wife announces that she is having an affair, and somehow makes it seem as if it is his fault, while he learns that Richard is attempting a merger that would most likely see him jobless.

Soon after this, a wild set of events coalesce. Hoping to score five million dollars from Richard, Harold concocts a fake kidnapping. But his boss is too cheap to pay the money – Richard sends his mercenary brother to fetch Harold for a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

At the same time, the company has been in cahoots with a drug cartel without the knowledge of Harold. Ignorance does not help much though, for he remains the only one with the fingerprints to unlock a safe to a formula the cartel is looking for.

Gringo is a film of coincidences – perhaps too many of them. Harold is a funny enough guy, with a relatable background. With his thick Nigerian accent, he fulfils the role of the immigrant trying to make it in a foreign country. But he is caught off guard when he finds that all that he has come to believe were the means to success are not grounded in reality.

The film tries to make up for the protagonist’s past misery by putting him in a number of highly unlikely scenarios. Coincidences do exist, but when they are as many as in this movie, they betray that they are in fact by design.

The film has a good enough concept, which was to show the ups and downs of a man that has convictions, which see him through cartels, mercenaries and heartless business persons. But it employs too many shootouts and car chases for Harold to look like a reflection of a real life do-gooder. It would have also been much better had the filmmakers dared a less optimistic ending, one more representative of reality.

The film is directed by Nash Edgerton, who is the brother of Edgerton the actor. The duo has collaborated time and again, and has given us exciting movies such as The Gift three years ago.

I do not have a problem with the director’s sense of aesthetics except that it remains within the bounds of the mainstream. Movies such as this could play with colour composition, camera angles and sets to give a better exposé of the inner feelings of the protagonist. Although this is not a character-based film, Harold is a unique enough protagonist for a Hollywood caper. It would have been interesting to watch such sets of events unfold from his perspective.

The film has some similarities with the Shane Black comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. They both portray weird and idealistic protagonists. Both depict very dangerous and highly eccentric secondary characters. And both show sets of events that are hard to believe can occur in real life.

But Kiss Kiss does it much better. The good guys are well-rounded and have a thing or two to learn about life, as opposed to just confirming their convictions. The villains are also not mere caricatures, and there is a delicious mystery at the heart of the film.

Above all, the film never goes too far. It requires the suspension of disbelief but not to a point where we are required to throw all reason out of the window.

By Christian Tesfaye
Exclusive to Fortune

Published on Mar 18,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 934]



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