Netflix’s ‘The Gray Man’: Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans Make Noise in Russos’ Propulsive Action Movie
While “The Gray Man” stars Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans and Regé-Jean Page, this worldwide action-thriller, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is more about pounding impulses and breathing than ‘with beating hearts. It’s a big, loud, explosive adrenaline rush – a live-action version of that old “MAD” magazine comic, “Spy vs. Spy” – and about as deep.
The story is simple. Six (Ryan Gosling) is recruited from prison by Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to be a “grey man” and work for the CIA killing bad guys as part of the Sierra program, an elite unit. During one mission – to eliminate the dining car (Callan Mulvey) – Six goes rogue. However, Dining Car reveals he is “Sierra Four” and Six will be the next target. Quatre gives Six a medal that contains an encrypted drive with compromising information that incriminates Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page), Six’s boss, who is high up at Langley.
Denny, not too pleased with this unfortunate development, hires free agent Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) to kill Six and retrieve the Reader by any means necessary. For Lloyd, a man who is said to have “zero impulse control,” that doesn’t rule out torture or the destruction of European cities.
And that’s about it. Dani Miranda (underused Ana de Armas) occasionally shows up to kick ass, and there’s a subplot involving Fitzroy’s niece, Claire (Julia Butters from “Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood”). who has a pacemaker. But mostly, the movie is one action scene after another.
The action pieces are pretty nifty, though. In a dizzying sequence, Six struggles to get out of a plane that is falling apart as it comes crashing down. Another episode involves McGuyver getting himself out of a sticky situation that’s best not explained except to say it’s pretty ingenious. Then there’s a massive gunfight while Six is handcuffed to a bench, and a thrilling, extended chase scene on a streetcar line that could be the film’s piece de resistance. These scenes are all executed with panache, along with fast editing and a traveling camera that add to their propulsive nature. They are all quite amazing.
But as exhilarating — or as exhausting — as “The Gray Man” is, the film strains its credibility as Six survives whatever he encounters. Everything is rather two-dimensional. The confident and fair Six is Road Runner to the arrogant and badass Lloyd’s Wile E. Coyote. The whole movie plays out like a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon. The many explosive devices, from grenades to rocket launchers, might as well be branded “Acme.”
Chris Evans as Lloyd Hansen, Jessica Henwick as Suzanne Brewer in “The Gray Man” (Paul Abell/Netflix)We almost want to root for Wile, uh, Lloyd because at least Chris Evans, in his “white pants and trash can mustache”, seems to be having fun playing an over-the-top villain. As a Six, Gosling is once again in “Drive” mode, too cool for school. The film provides a slight pleasure every time it gets ripped off – like when it acknowledges that Dani Miranda keeps saving his ass. (And for those counting, Gosling also gets a shirtless scene flaunting his impressive chest; that’s the same number of times he’s been called a “Ken doll.”)
Like Carmichael, Régé-Jean Page is as small as he is pretty. It would have been better for him to be picked as a Six, as he could easily show grace under pressure. Instead, as Carmichael, Page has to sweat to be discovered, and that’s just not a good look for the “Bridgerton” star.
Each character experiences a series of reversals of fortune, but “The Gray Man” shows pretty clearly how things will unfold. Sure, there’s a terrific scene involving one of Fitzroy’s contacts, Margaret Cahill (Alfre Woodard) helping out, and it features clever, coded spy exchanges like “Have you tried the foil siding?” ://news.google.com/ “I prefer fiberglass.” Another fun track stars Laszlo Sosa (a fabulous Wagner Moura, who hammers it) as an agent who helps Six with a passport, among other things.
These episodes are way more interesting than the backstory of Six and what he did to land in jail (point out tired dad issues); Lloyd torturing someone for information; or even a flaccid sequence where Six “guards” Claire, so they can bond, and her health may tug on a nerve. There are also several extended needle drops which should speed things up, but it doesn’t.
But arguably the biggest flaw is that the film falters when Six and Lloyd finally go mano-a-mano, after a prolonged chase through a hedge maze at night, no less. There should be real electricity seeing Gosling and Evans face off in a water fountain, but it’s oddly underwhelming – especially after some of the movie’s great action sequences.
Ultimately, “The Gray Man” is as silly as it is thrilling – much like Netflix’s similar offerings, “Extraction” or “The Old Guard.” Not a bad thing, but it could have been better.
“The Gray Man” is now streaming on Netflix.
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