he Gray Man on Netflix is a real joy for the most part. It harkens back to the days when studios could depend on an action storyline with a few huge explosions, a few of A-list actors, and a competent director to turn it into a smash. It is based on a literary character and is often more entertaining and escapism-oriented than some of the more recent James Bond movies (though not highly advertised as such).
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The name Court Gentry The Gray Man, which Ryan Gosling portrays as a freelance assassin and former CIA agent for Mark Greaney, is mainly avoided in the film in favor of his code name, Sierra Six. This seems like a somewhat pumped-up, dumbed-down version of that character to Gosling fans whose favorite movie was Drive, with noticeably more to say about how he doesn’t really have much to say.
The movie The Gray Man does seem costly given its $200 million budget, which makes it the most expensive Netflix original ever. When Joe and Anthony Russo get that much funding for a project, particularly when Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the writers of Avengers: Endgame, are involved in the writing, it seems like there should be exploding planets and flying humans with power bolts coming from their bodies. But crap, everything costs twice as much today. Have you recently seen your food bill?
But as long as there are exploding airplanes and people strangling one other as they plummet through the air, everything is OK. Aside from some grating stutter-vision battles in their Marvel films, with Civil War being the biggest offender, the Russo brothers’ directing style isn’t exactly the most recognizable in the world. However, The Gray Man illustrates what they could have been constructing with it.
These battle sequences often take a subjective turn, giving viewers the viewpoint that Ryan Gosling has a slight concussion or that everything is distorted by the turmoil of an aircraft crashing. It looks more like Bourne than Gladiator and is a clear improvement over Captain America movies in terms of combat.
Chris Evans, the real The Gray Man Captain America, is here to battle, although as a villain, so this can basically be proven. Evans dons a “trash stache” and white pants to play Lloyd Hansen, a douchey, sociopathic independent contractor who performs CIA-style dirty work with little regard for protocol or the law, in a role that at times seems written for Nicolas Cage—especially when he yells at fresh corpses and kicks them. America’s arse has evolved into an arsehole. As a result of some incriminating revelations about his own employers, Gosling’s Six, a CIA hitman, becomes the target of both the legitimate CIA and their less-than-honest accomplice Lloyd.
The Gray Man very straightforward plot traverses the world, presumably so that the Russos can stage cool action scenes in other nations. While a European train pursuit has Six on a runaway locomotive, utilizing the mirrored facades of buildings he passes through to attack his adversaries below, an early battle scenario in a Bangkok fireworks array is especially exhilarating pleasure.
When the fog rolls back at the huge finale to unexpectedly expose a significant beautiful site we’ve never seen before, there is a little bit of a cheat, but it is so outrageously over-the-top that few raised eyebrows should disrupt the audience’s action delight. (However, at times the conversation, which includes phrases like “If you enjoy breathing, you may want to remedy this,” might be a bit too Adolescent Tough Guy 101.)
Greaney’s original story has been somewhat modified; instead of an English mentor for Six, we now get Billy Bob Thornton, who first makes an evil toupee appearance in flashback and savors every word of the “Bubblicious Watermelon Wave” he feeds Ryan Gosling as a rare treat in jail. Thornton becomes less entertaining but no less interesting when the story moves to the present and he begins to act his age, adding a layer of resigned masochism to his existence as a corporate man.
As The Gray Man the person responsible for Lloyd’s terrible antics, Rege-Jean Page, who has been mentioned as a potential James Bond in the future, proves he is at least capable of playing one of the super spy’s villains. Jessica Henwick and Ana de Armas complement him well as coworkers fed up with their boys club counterparts.
The young captive with the pacemaker who Six must finally rescue is played by Julia Butters of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, who once again demonstrates her ability to act as a covert weapon. They are both damaged children, but only one is coping with it at the right age, so we need to believe that this laconic executioner can connect with a girl who is truly heartbroken and lives in a harsh solitude. And we do.
While superhero films have trained us to anticipate running durations of at least two hours, as well as presumably their directors and writers, the pace doesn’t always warrant it, and The Gray Man may have too many endings. Having said that, if Sierra Six decides to keep creating movies, I’ll watch them. The Russos have made use of more than simply Ryan Gosling’s attractiveness and smoldering gazes. Gosling is one of those performers for whom a recurrent action hero role strangely seems long overdue.
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