Review by Rebecca Wynne-Walsh
I went into Gringo with simplistic expectations. I knew it wasn’t going to be groundbreaking cinema with complexly layered characters and an intricately constructed narrative. Gringo was always going to be a mid-level, harmlessly forgettable and slightly ridiculous action-comedy romp. On all counts my assumptions proved correct but still I must say I was disappointed which serves to prove that even the most basic formulas can be the most difficult to do well thus proving that filmmaking even at its apparent easiest is never quite as simple as it seems.
The director of this sprawling mess of a film is Nash Edgerton, brother of the famous and excellent actor Joel thus presenting Gringo as an instance of Hollywood nepotism at its finest or perhaps in this case it is more fittingly described as Hollywood nepotism at its worst. This is stunt performer and coordinator Nash Edgerton’s first outing as a feature film director and his training wheels are almost painfully visible throughout as he clearly struggles to steer the project in any coherent direction. His established career history as a stunt coordinator should have promised some thrilling action set pieces at the very least but even at this he fails to deliver as my heart failed even to rise to a jogging pace, never mind racing alongside the “wild” car chases matching their break-neck speed.
The real question is how on earth did so many big names end up in such a substandard film? Joel Edgerton’s familial duty is apparent but for the likes of Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Thandie Newton, Amanda Seyfried and Sharlto Copley no such simple explanation can be offered. There is certainly a well established tradition of A level actors padding out their filmographies with simplistic genre-fare, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy in This Means War or Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in We Bought a Zoo serve here as prime examples. At least in these examples the films, while telling uniform stories tell them proficiently. Here, as in many regards unfortunately Gringo fails miserably.
Of all the cast members, Theron shines, achieving the most complexity with the limited character building means she is offered as the ball-busting, sexually charged and possibly psychopathic business-woman fronting one too many shady business deals. Her Oscar credentials are clear as she steals every single scene she enters. It is clear from very early in the film that Edgerton’s story would have benefitted immensely from focussing a lot more on Theron and a lot less on the narrative chaos unfolding around her.
Edgeton’s confused storytelling or lack thereof sees his ensemble of characters and their conflicting storylines spiralling rather quickly out of control. The myriad of opposing stories fight consistently to “out-ridiculous” each other and not in an entertaining screwball kind of way, in a hopelessly ill-paced comedy kind of way. Gringo features a huge assortment of subplots, none of which is enough for a movie on its own but their miscalculated combination disrupts all, if any, narrative flow to ensure that even when all-together they are still not good enough to fill a feature length film of any merit. Gringo cannot reach an already low bar yet inexplicably continues to raise that bar thus pushing itself further and further away from any semblance of comedy, genre and by the long-awaited end, enjoyment.