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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Gringo, Review: Enough of Judas! What about Peter?

Gringo, Review: Enough of Judas! What about Peter?

“Which is the best Beatles album?” asks the man with the gun. If your answer is ‘Sergeant Pepper and the Lonely Hearts’ Club’, you die. If you do not like the Beatles or have outgrown them, he will still kill you. Your only hope is...‘Let It Be’! Get it right and he might either let you off, or just settle for chopping your finger off.

That is Gringo, a slightly confused and wayward take on an American drug company’s foray into Mexico, and an attempt of their own employee to fake his own kidnapping and claim ransom/insurance money. It has loads of gratis sex, and if what the Indian censors have let pass is the top of ..., there must be tons of it in the recycle bin, all adding up to 110 minutes of running time. Most likely conceived as a black comedy, Gringo had just too much violence and vulgarity to work on the comic plane.

Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) works for Cannabax Technologies Inc, a company that has developed the Weed Pill--medical marijuana that has been simplified into a pill, but is still awaiting approval from the American government. Harold hears rumours that the company is in talks for a merger, but this is denied by one of his bosses, Richard Rusk, who also happens to be his friend. Harold's bosses, Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) and Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton), both back-stabbing and ruthless individuals, travel with him to Mexico, to handle the manufacturing of the product.

They send an executive to tell the boss of the cartel, Villegas/Black Panther (Carlos Corona), that Cannabax has abandoned the plans of allowing the cartel to manufacture the drug on their behalf. The drug-lord asks the man if he thinks Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club is the Beatles’ best album and the emissary agrees. The boss then has his finger cut off, because he does not think that album was the best. The best, as he reveals later, was Let It Be. He also launches a man-hunt for Soyinka, who, he believes, has the key to the formulas and the manufacturing facility.

Harold stays back in Mexico, faking kidnapping, to benefit from the company policy of 2 mn dollars payout if anything was happen to him in Mexico, during a business visit. He also gets to know via Skype that his wife (Thandie Newton) has left him, and that she is having an affair with Richard. While out, drunk, Harold ends up getting kidnapped by the drugs cartel. They think Harold is a boss, or, at least, one of the bosses, of Cannabax. Richard hires his brother Mitch (Sharlto Copley), who happens to be an ex-mercenary turning a new leaf, currently working for a charity in Haiti, to safely get Harold out of harm's way, and he rescues Harold from the Mafia, only for the two to end up having to survive one outrageous situation after another.

Gringo’s story is by Matthew Stone and the screenplay is written jointly, by Anthony Tambakis (Jane Got a Gun, Warrior, Sun Dogs, Karate Kid 2) and Matthew Stone (Soul Men  I Man of the House, Intolerable Cruelty). It will be hard to find a normal, honest, simple human being in Gringo. The two bosses are trying to dupe the company buyer, they have sex with each other, Richard also has an affair with Harold’s wife. Elaine tries to seduce the prospective buyer. Soyinka stages his own kidnapping. The Rodriguez brothers (Diego Cataño and Rodrigo Corea), owners of the hotel where he hides, are out to sell him to the mob. Mitch first rescues Soyinka and then plans to kill him, for ‘fees’ ranging in the millions of dollars bracket. And there are many other characters as well.

In one scene, Mitch talks about religion and says that he would not trust God in a life and death situation. “Judas betrayed Jesus once but repented and hung himself. Yet, he is remembered as the ultimate betrayer. What about Peter, who betrayed Christ thrice? Nobody talks about his betrayal! In fact, he is revered,” or to that effect. There is another witty bit of dialogue, by Theron, which tries to suggest that Neil Armstrong was not scheduled to be the first man on the moon. A race triangle is obvious, with the white Americans, black Americans and the Mexicans in a race for multi-million dollar booty. We even have Chinese, Japanese, Greek and a Muslim African-American character.

As director, this is Nash Edgerton’s second feature, after The Square, which was made in native Australia. Nash, as the surname gives away, is Joel’s younger brother, and a stunt specialist. The Square was co-written by Joel, who is just over a year older than Nash. In Gringo, Nash plays with genres, and that is fine. But there are too many complexities in the plot, which straddles obscenity and gore, while trying to execute black comedy. Stunts are state-of-the-art, as can be expected in any movie that has him as director.

Joel Edgerton (Exodus: Gods and Kings, Black Mass, Red Sparrow: Joel’s character was called Nate Nash) with his ‘reconstructed’ facial form and poker-faced countenance, is rightly ambivalent. Charlize Theron gives her no scruples character the requisite lowliness it demands. David Oyelowo has a meaty part, confused as hell, and looking every bit so. Thandie Newton has your sympathy, until she gets into Richard’s bed. Diego Cataño and Rodrigo Corea change ‘as time goes by’. Sharlto Copley strikes a few funny chords. Carlos Corona revels in his maniac killer avatar.

Amanda Seyfried and Harry Treadaway have an enjoyable parallel track going, as American lovers. Treadway is a drug addict, who bolts when Seyfried suggest that Harold might be a Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA) agent. Others in the cast include Bashir Salahuddin (not Asian, but black American), Melonie Diaz, Paris Jackson, Yul Vazquez, Kenneth Choi and Hector Kotsifakis.

The makers must be hoping that you will see the film if not for Christ’s sake, then for Judas’s sake. Hold on a sec! What about Peter? What about him?

Rating: ** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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