This Is a Movie Review: ‘Gringo’ Finds Humor and Redemption in a World Gone Mad

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CREDIT: Amazon Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, Yul Vazquez, Harry Treadaway, Alan Ruck

Director: Nash Edgerton

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Corporate Profanity, Office Sex and Euphemistic Propositioning, and a Few Gunshots and Amputations

Release Date: March 9, 2018

Gringo exists mainly to stoke the ire of anyone who believes that the insurance industry is the greatest scam in the history of humanity. I am sure that there are some agents putting in decent work, and there certainly have been times when a smart policy have bailed folks out of emergencies. But why do have to put money aside (or pay folks off, in cynical parlance) to ensure all that? Why can’t we as a species just agree to have each other’s backs as part of the human contract? I suppose that the insurance industry is meant to be that agreement, but as Gringo proves, there are plenty of opportunities for abuse in its current form.

A less humanistic film than Gringo would have Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) seeking his revenge on the world for being constantly taken advantage of or falling into a pit of despair over how nice guys finish last. But instead, it is about how he realizes how he is rich in what truly counts in life through a chaotically dangerous, screwball journey. He is a mid-level businessman at the drug company Cannabix who is just a little too trusting of everyone around him. He catches wind that a lot of jobs are going to get cut very soon in unscrupulous fashion, and he is shocked that his boss Richard (Joel Edgerton) would ever do such a thing. But that bit of news should not be surprising to anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with this most weaselly of alpha males. Furthermore, Harold and his wife Bonnie (Thandie Newton) are tens of thousands of dollars in debt, mostly due to her highly irresponsible financial habits. Plus, she’s cheating on him (take a wild guess with who), and she’s kind of taking pity on how much he’s been letting this all happen right under his nose.

As Harold begins to learn the truth, Richard and his other boss, the more openly terrible Elaine (the scary when she’s funny Charlize Theron), bring him down to Mexico for a little business trip, making it the perfect time for Harold to win back a little of his dignity. So he fakes his own kidnapping in a scheme to make off with a ransom of $5 million. Such a kidnapping is believable, as the company has recently developed a very valuable product (medical marijuana in pill form), and they do business with a cartel. At first Richard and Elaine are willing to play ball (sort of) to get Harold home safe. But when it turns out that Cannabix’s insurance policies make it more valuable when an employee dies, things really go topsy-turvy.

Not that they ever weren’t pear-shaped in the first place. Harold may be faking his kidnapping, but he actually has been targeted for capture by the cartel, who mistake him for the boss. Adding to the fun are his run-ins with Sunny (Amanda Seyfried), a sweet and naive guitar shop employee who does not realize the extent of her boyfriend’s (Harry Treadaway) drug dealings, as well as Richard’s brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), a sort of private special ops extractor who weirdly but effectively has some of the most integrity of any of the characters.

There is a lot of explosive coincidence in Gringo, but it is justified in that it is what ensures the hilarity. The humor is morally satisfying, as the worst actors are forced to reckon with what they deserve, while the lessons imparted are not overly didactic. Kindness is rewarded, as epiphanies emerge to show that life’s cruelty can be laughed upon. This is quite the loony bin of a cast, but ultimately this is The Manic High-Wire David Oyelowo Show, and he sells it with a supremely cool final shot.

Gringo is Recommended If You Like: Coen Brothers Crime Comedies, The Kind of Movie Wherein Gunfire Leads to Hilarious Screaming, Satisfying Morality

Grade: 3 out of 5 Gorilla

This Is a Movie Review: Free Fire

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor

Director: Ben Wheatley

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Living Up to the Promise of Its Title

Release Date: April 21, 2017

Free Fire dresses up an illicit arms deal in fancy ’70s formalwear and then bloodies up the pretensions with unrelenting chaos. The trick to making all this pleasant – or at least attempting to do so – is an equally endless stream of witty rejoinders. This technique is strongest between the odd couple pairing of Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer. The former is all high-wire, unpredictable energy. The latter is all suave unflappability. Both are thoroughly confident in their own skins. I would be happy to watch these two volley back-and-forth all day. But I gotta ask, is it necessary that their team-up occur amidst such a destructive hail of bullets?

The obvious antecedent, when it comes to a crime gone amok leading to ultraviolence and goons yammering on, is Quentin Tarantino’s breakout Reservoir Dogs. The difference is that QT’s characters have an inherent point of view, whereas Free Fire co-writer/director Ben Wheatley’s crew mostly just screeches hysterically (not always literally, but it feels like it). There can be humor found in the panic that sets in when a dangerous situation goes pear-shaped, but Free Fire too often confuses nastiness with lunacy. I don’t oppose on-screen graphic violence as a rule, but there ought to be a good reason for it. In this case, it feels like an excuse for a movie that hates all of its characters to just pick them off one-by-one.

Getting back to the folks populating this film, there are several more hooligans besides Copley and Hammer, among them Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, and Sing Street’s Jack Reynor (who often strikes me as Ireland’s less schlubby answer to Seth Rogen). The fun of these players is primarily geographical. Their dispersal around the warehouse after the shots start firing creates a sort of constantly shifting maze. The narrative thrust is basically sorting out this puzzle. Who makes it out alive? Who cares! What matters is the physical space and the treachery between these dots of human beings. But that’s small change. Let’s cut to the chase and get to work on the Copley-Hammer follow-up.

Free Fire is Recommended If You Like: Pulling the Heads Off Bugs

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 V Necks