Few things fascinate me more than America and the select demographic of publicity-loving, nouveau riche people who live there. This may well be why said people are the subject matter of some of my favourite documentaries. Take The Queen of Versailles, for example, a chronicle of the stop-start construction of a French chateau-inspired Florida mansion, also America’s largest house, built by time-share mogul David Siegal and his Barbie doll-like socialite wife, Jackie. Trump: An American Dream falls into the same category as a rambling, in-depth account of the rise of the now POTUS and the psyche of the world’s most famous ‘rich man’. (Spoiler alert: he has always ever been a raging egomaniac with a penchant for gold.)
So it was only natural that Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee caught my attention when I was looking for my next hit of American bizarro. The synopsis triggered the memory of reading headlines about the anti-virus software mogul being found hiding under a cardboard box on a beach in Belize several years ago; McAfee was on the run for being mixed up in the murder of his neighbour in his adopted home of San Pedro, a colourful Belizean tourist island.
As it turns out, this outlandish series of events is only a fraction of the weird sh*t McAfee has played a hand in, in Belize and beyond. Having chosen to move to the Central American nation to capitalise on its tropical clime and relative lawlessness, the paranoid ‘gringo’ employs a cohort of ex-convicts to protect his home in San Pedro as well as his research laboratory where he hopes to make pharmaceutical breakthroughs in a jungle-laced district called Orange Walk. As though living some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, he becomes embroiled with the local gangster scene, positing himself as a gringo ‘Godfather’ of sorts, surrounded by young local girls and escorts who reveals some particularly disturbing tidbits.
Disliked by a number of expats who also live on the island, finding him antagonistic and above the law, Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee culminates in the murder of Greg Faull, a seemingly reasonable man-next-door who was simply fed up with McAfee’s thuggish antics. Faull miraculously gets next to no press as the news outlets go on a wild goose chase to find McAfee hiding illegally in Guatemala. What is arguably most bizarre, however, is that four years after McAfee-gate has blown over — largely thanks to his blame-bending abilities — the millionaire has a convincing punt at the 2016 presidential election, leveraging his standing as one of the country’s foremost authorities on cybersecurity to garner a fair amount of traction.
The film is rendered uncomfortably eery by the menacing communication McAfee has with documentary maker Nanette Burstein, calling her his “magnum opus”, i.e. the thing to which he will devote all his energy in the name of bringing down. Shedding light on the impunity of the world’s (and especially America’s) 1%, Gringo is a transparent account of how one megalomaniac uses money to obtain power in a far-off land.