'Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee' is the defining documentary on McAfee's crazy life (TIFF Review)
Director Nanette Burstein takes on the bizarre tale of antivirus software creator John McAfee. Interviewing all the key players in his turbulent life over the past decade or so, she creates a document no one was able to form yet.
John McAfee had all the characteristics of the free-spirited Silicon Valley entrepreneurs we've come to know over the years. But even back then, in the late 80's, he was crossing lines no one else was. While running his company McAfee Associates, the staff would place bets on who could have sex in the weirdest places in the office. Which could result in some awkward cleaning up in the morning.
But 'Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee' doesn't linger much on the past. And understandably so. As Burstein says after the screening, there's just too much ground to cover. There were plans for a series at Spike TV, but in the end this feature documentary feels like a condensed story that tells everything you need to know, not getting into much of his software ventures.
'Gringo' tells the story of a rich American, a slightly paranoid one, who does whatever he wants. Living in the remote country Belize, he has a harem of women who all think he treats them the best of all. He travels with 3 cars, or more like military vehicles, and his 12 bodyguards in military uniforms — most of which have records, and some clearly killed before. And he seems to have bribed most of the police or replaced them with his own guards.
Now you might think this is extreme, and paranoid. But as one of the interviewees mentions, is it really? Because of the poverty and crime in the country, he is targeted for his money. But to be frank, the only reason he would be targeted is for the lifestyle he lives and showcases in the media himself.
This is shown in the way he tries to manipulate Burstein during the film as well. Not willing to do an interview, he regularly emails her and clearly enjoys the attention in a way. But as the filmmaker painfully shows, he is not the master manipulator he thinks he is. And he comes across as bad comedic villain, who laughs about his brilliant disguise while everyone can see it's him.
The fact that Burstein wasn't able to get McAfee in front of a camera doesn't hurt the film much however. The nightly emails give her enough to play with. And the other interviewees are very, very (!) open about his life, going into his extreme sexual behavior, creating the more hilarious moment of the engrossing documentary.
His Dark Side
But it's not all fun and games. The film takes a serious turn when covering the rape of a scientist working for McAfee in his remote facility. And interviewing everyone involved in the killing of his neighbor Gregory Faull, Burstein leaves little doubt the software mogul was behind it, as revenge for poisoning McAfee's dogs just days before his death.
'Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee' is a revealing document that defines who John McAfee is by the interviewing key players in his life's story. It's doubtful McAfee would've added much truth to it would he have been interviewed himself.
It's the must-see documentary at #TIFF16 and it will air on Showtime September 24, 9 PM ET/PT