While The Gray Man showcases Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans and Rare-Jean Page, this global action thriller, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is more about pulse and breathing than palpitations. It’s a big, noisy, explosive adrenaline rush – a live spin on the old MAD comic Spy vs. Spy – and about as deep.
The story is simple. Six (Ryan Gosling) is recruited in prison by Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to become a “grey man” and work for the CIA, killing bad guys as part of the Sierra program, an elite unit. During one mission – destroy the dining car (Callan Mulvey) – Six gets out of control. However, the Dining Car reveals that he is “Sierra Four” and Six will be the next target. Four gives Six a medal containing an encrypted disc containing incriminating information incriminating Danny Carmichael (Rarely Jean Page), Six’s boss with a high position in Langley.
Danny, not too pleased with this unfortunate development, hires independent agent Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) to kill Six and recover the car by any means necessary. For Lloyd, a man said to have “zero impulsive control”, this does not preclude torture or destruction of European cities.
And that’s almost all. Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas, underused) shows up from time to time to kick ass, and there’s an additional subplot involving Fitzroy’s niece, Claire (Julia Butters from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), who has a pacemaker. But basically the film is one action after another after another.
However, the action set elements are quite nifty. In one dizzying episode, Six struggles to get out of a plane that practically falls apart as it falls. In another episode, he, MacGyver, is trying to get out of a sticky situation that is best left unexplained other than to say it’s pretty inventive. Then there’s the massive gunfight as Six is handcuffed to a bench, and a gripping, drawn-out tram chase scene that’s arguably the highlight of the film. All of these scenes are done with a lot of panache, as well as quick editing and a moving camera, which adds to their dynamism. They are all pretty amazing.
But as exhilarating — or tiring — as The Gray Man is, the film is credible as Six lives through everything she encounters. Everything is pretty two-dimensional. Confident and righteous, Six is the Road Runner for Lloyd’s brash and badass Wile Coyote. The entire movie plays out like a live Looney Tunes cartoon. Numerous explosive devices, from grenades to grenade launchers, could also be marked “Acme”.
Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen, Jessica Henwick as Susannah Brewer in The Gray Man. (Paul Abell/Netflix)You almost feel like rooting for Wile, er, Lloyd, because at least Chris Evans in his “white pants and trash mustache” seems to be having fun playing the ultimate villain. As Sixth, Gosling is once again in a drive mode that is too cool for the school. The film delivers a light treat whenever it gets thrown off the rails – like when he admits that Dani Miranda keeps saving his ass. (And for those who count, Gosling also gets one shirtless scene where he shows off his impressive chest; he’s been referred to as a “Ken doll” the same number of times.)
As Carmichael, Rare-Jean Page is as petty as he is handsome. It would be better for him if he was cast as Six because he could easily show grace under pressure. Instead, like Carmichael, Page has to work hard to get exposed, which is just not good for the Bridgerton star.
Each character goes through a series of twists and turns, but The Gray Man makes it pretty clear how things will play out. Of course, there’s a terrific scene involving one of Fitzroy’s contacts helping out Margaret Cahill (Alfre Woodard), and it features clever, coded spy exchanges like, “Have you tried aluminum siding?” https://news.google.com/ “I prefer fiberglass.” In another nice episode, Laszlo Sosa (gorgeous Wagner Moura, joking) as an operative who, among other things, helps Six with a passport.
These episodes are much more interesting than Six’s backstory and what he did to get into jail (the problems with his tired father); Lloyd tortures someone for information; or even the flabby episode where Six “babysits” Claire so they can get closer, and her health condition can hurt her heartstrings. There are also a few extended needles that should spice things up but don’t.
But perhaps the biggest downside is that the movie falters when Six and Lloyd finally get into melee, after a protracted chase through a nocturnal hedge maze, no less. There must be some real electricity when Gosling and Evans are thumping in the fountain, but it’s strangely underwhelming – especially after some of the movie’s excellent scenes.
Ultimately, The Gray Man is as nonsensical as it is riveting – not unlike similar Netflix offerings, The Extraction or The Old Guard. It’s not bad, but it could be better.
The Gray Man is now streaming on Netflix.
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