David Oyelowo brings laughter and empathy playing a Nigerian immigrant on the run from the Mexican cartel.
Gringo’s hero was originally supposed to be a white man from Chicago, but lead actor David Oyelowo had a better idea.
Thanks to him, we have Harold Soyinka, a Nigerian immigrant chasing success in the U.S. And with that, director Nash Edgerton developed a new vision and transformed his action-comedy into something surprisingly endearing.
Harold works for a pharmaceutical company and takes a trip to Mexico with his repugnant bosses Richard Rusk (Nash’s brother Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron).
Richard and Elaine have secretly been selling their revolutionary new cannabis pill to a dangerous drug cartel, but now need clean books to secure a vital business deal elsewhere.
Naturally, the ruthless kingpin is fuming to hear they’ve opted out of the arrangement and puts a price on Harold’s head believing that he’s the real man in charge.
Everyone becomes a baddie as the various subplots unfold and entangle, with Richard proving to be just as dangerous as the deadly cartel, in addition to his mercenary-turned-humanitarian brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley) who is dispatched to save Harold.
It turns out that Harold is no more a ‘gringo’ in Mexico than he is among his ruthless peers at home, and only crazy shoot-outs, car crashes and elaborate getaways are enough to wake him up to the futility of the American Dream his father promised was awaiting him.
His bleak predicament gives way to a rampant plot which brings plenty of laughs and some excellent dialogue.
The caricaturish corporate bosses are utterly outrageous, with Theron effortlessly spewing the dirtiest of profanities and delivering a wildly entertaining performance as sharp-tongued Elaine.
Meanwhile, Edgerton makes it easy to hate Richard – the guy that likens Harold’s future job prospects to a gorilla waiting for a banana.
However, do-gooder Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) serves no purpose whatsoever aside from provoking sniggers all around when she compliments Harold on his “cool” (Nigerian) accent, then asks if he’s Jamaican.
Same applies to her bumbling amateur-drug-mule boyfriend Miles (Harry Treadaway), and though the writers try to give the cartel leader, aka The Black Panther (Carlos Corona), a humanising quirk by making him a Beatles fan, it feels a bit forced.
Less of these three could have meant more scenes between Harold and quirky Mitch, who forge the most interesting relationship in the short time they spend together.
Yet all of Gringo’s flaws are forgotten once Oyelowo hits the screen. Who’d have thought the man most famous for playing the great Martin Luther King Jr. would turn out to be such a promising comedic talent?
His comic timing and delivery is second to none, but he also uses his dramatic skill to bring emotion and tenderness to a character he clearly cares very much for, sharing that many of Harold’s naiveties are based on that of his own father when he first moved to the U.K.
Oyelowo gives everything he’s got to his performance and it totally pays off. Certain characters and filler scenes could be spared from the story, but Harold’s journey from "middle management" to unlikely hero is one you’ll lap up until the very end.
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