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THE GRAY MAN (2022) review

July 25, 2022


written by: Joe Russo, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
produced by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Mike Larocca, Chris Castaldi & Palak Patel
directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of strong violence, and strong language)
runtime: 129 min.
U.S. release date: July 22, 2022 (Netflix)


When you think of great action sequences in recent Marvel movies, it’s likely that Anthony and Joe Russo directed them. They helmed the last two “Captain America” movies and the epic one-two punch of the last two “Avengers” movies, so they are well adept when it comes to created kinetic fights and epic battles on screen. While last year’s “Cherry” found them veering into combat PTSD drama territory, resulting in an ugly and unbelievable effort at adapting an autofictional novel, the brothers are taking a stab at adaptation once again with the globe-trotting action flick “The Gray Man”, about a black ops agent on the run from a relentless pursuer, an adaptation of the first novel in a series by writer Mark Greaney. It’s a return to form for the Russos, working once again with a massive budget (at $200 million, reportedly Netflix’s most expensive to date) and if all you want is action then this one’s for you.

However, if you’re looking for more than just relentless and brutal action sequences, “The Gray Man” isn’t interested in anything beyond that. While the characters feel quite unoriginal and cliche (with star Ryan Gosling is doing his soft-spoken strong guy thing) and the overall storyline suffers from overly blink-and-you-miss-them plotholes and glaringly familiar beats, “The Gray Man” isn’t a bad movie and, yeah sure, I did get a kick out of the action. But, it just feels like the movie really really wants to convince you of it’s awesomeness, confidently winking our way that it’s gonna rule.



Eighteen years ago, 23 year-old Court Gentry (Gosling) was given a commuted prison sentence and recruited for the Sierra program by Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), where the glib convict would become a deadly weapon named “Six” (or “Sierra Six”), pointed at unsanctioned jobs for the CIA as their under-the-radar “Gray Man”.

In present day, with many covert assignments under his belt, Six must now contend with Donald’s replacement, center chief Denny Carmichael (a boring, one-note Regé-Jean Page), a cocky, power-tripping a-hole at Langley, as the guy who now sends him off on priority missions. When one particular job in Bangkok during a New Year’s Eve party that Six and his colleague Dani (Ana De Armas) are on goes south, due to a child getting in the way of a shot, Six uncovers some possible truths about the Sierra program that results in him going on the run. Carmichael, ignoring his disapproving second-in-command, Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick), hires psychopathic mercenary, Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), a former CIA agent with a trash ‘stache who’s thrown out the rule book, to hunt down Six and retrieve incriminating evidence (a frickin’ thumb drive – it’s always a thumb drive!) against the Sierra program, specifically Carmichael.

To gain leverage, Lloyd kidnaps Fitzroy’s precocious 13-year-old niece, Clare (Julia Butters, of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), who conveniently has a pacemaker that we have to worry about (which is mentioned ad nauseum), knowing how tight Six is with his former handler. To put the squeeze on Six even tighter, Lloyd puts out an all-alert within the assassin community (just like the last “John Wick” flick) and the chase is on. From Baku to Prague, leaving a ton of collateral damage in their wake, the Six versus Lloyd action fest careens its way to a predictable ending, leaving plenty of room for “The Gray Man” to be considered a hopeful franchise starter for Netflix and the Russo brothers’ production company, AGBO. 



Without a doubt, all the money Netflix shoveled out for “The Gray Man” is on the screen. It’s a massive endeavor with multiple set pieces across a handful of countries that’s borderline bloated, only pausing the overuse of swirling drone shots (no surprise since cinematographer Stephen F. Windon lensed many of the “Fast and Furious” movies) for quip remarks from Gosling and Evans. What’s most curious from the start is how with all the close quarter shooting and stabbing and jumping from heights in the first big action sequence, one has to wonder if this Gray Man that Gosling is playing is a superhero. I mean, even John Wick would’ve broken his ankle during that sequence. As far as I could tell, Six isn’t injected with any Super Soldier Serum, but it sure seems like it.

This is a movie that wants to be an amalgam of the Jason Bourne and Mission: Impossible movies, but it’s hard to feel the stakes when everyone seems superhuman. It’s also hard to get invested in the characters when they are either so very low-key or outrageously cartoonish. Come to think of it, this could be a live-action adaptation of Roadrunner vs. Wile E. Coyote (played by Gosling and Evans, respectively). That first fight ends with Six fighting his opponent in the pit of an active fireworks, yet he doesn’t walk away from it with any semblance of hearing loss. Say what?

These are just some of the problems that “The Gray Man” has and many of them could’ve been solved with more time in the writer’s room. But, maybe screenwriters Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely (the later two wrote the last two “Captain America” movies, so there’s familiarity amongst the writers here) aren’t trying to break the action movie mold here. “The Gray Man” won’t get you emotionally invested or concerned, since it doesn’t stop to give us a change to get to know who Six is (or any of the other characters for that matter), an unphased protagonist who is seemingly unkillable. Look, I know it’s an adaptation of a novel I haven’t read, but how many times have there been an mid-air action scene in a cargo plane where the hull is compromised and everyone needs to hold on to something while fighting. Granted, the one in this movie is pretty cool (despite some spotty CGI), but we still shouldn’t watch this play out and think, “Oh, this”.



Another element that will be familiar to many is this idea of the world-weary action guy having to rescue or look out for some teenager that he/she has some kind of connection too. We saw this not too long ago in the Russo-produced “Extraction” (also Netflix) with Chris Hemsworth – it felt overdone then and even moreso now. Also, it’s hard to have sympathy for a teen in peril, when they don’t listen to their protector. Any time a protagonist tells the kid, “Stay put, I’ll be right back,” you know that’s not gonna happen. Or when someone close to the teen in peril is about to die and the protector needs to grab the teen and get going or they’re get shot at and the teen is struggling to stay there for the last dying breath…Come on! It’s all been done before and even then it was frustrating.

Gosling and Evans are fine in “The Gray Man”, but the screenplay could’ve pushed their characters into more extremes. I would’ve preferred to see Six really freak out and start to question everything he’s known about the Sierra program or violently lash out at his superiors, but instead Gosling plays him cool…even when he’s trapped or gravely injured, he doesn’t seem as concerned as he should be. Evans on the other hand, has an opportunity to go mad bonkers in this wacky role, but Russos and company just kinda sit on him. He has some great moments and he purposely looks ridiculous, but he never goes full psycho and in the end his Lloyd Hansen character just comes across as silly camp. The two of them could’ve had a Martin Riggs and Mr. Joshua intensity (if you know, you know), but it’s just not there.

That being said, there other characters who prove to be much more interesting then the ones Gosling and Evans play. Again, nothing against these actors, but between the writing and the directing here, these roles do them no favors (beyond lining their pockets just fine). There are however two standouts that could’ve either been given more screen time or could receive further development in sequels (let’s face it, they’re happening). One of them is Dani, the character Ana De Armas plays, an ally to Six, who clearly has some room for internal conflict considering she tries to help the him without getting targeted herself. She can totally hold her own in a melee and has a confidant resilience that’s absorbing. De Armas conveys all this with aplomb and, just like her role in last fall’s “No Time to Die”, she winds up being a scene stealer who needs her own action flick. NOTE: it’s funny to see De Armas and Gosling work together here after their great chemistry in “Blade Runner 2049”. Another intriguing character is “Lone Wolf”, a cool and competent mercenary hired to pursue Six. Played by Indian actor Dhanush, he quietly commands what little screen time he has and winds up actually playing one of the few characters with a decent moral code. That’s a nice break from many of the other characters who seem to have no problem destroying property and causing chaos for civilians.



There are however a couple of typically great actors who show up in “The Gray Man” that aren’t really given a whole lot to do. Alfre Woodard plays former Sierra Program handler Margaret Cahill, who assists Six in keeping the drive away from Hansen in Prague. There’s also Shea Whigham, who is on screen for several seconds as Six’s abusive father during a flashback that is designed to give us context for Six’s motivation. These are great actors, so why not hold off on some of these characters and include them later in the aforementioned sequels? As it is, the writers included too many characters in a movie that just doesn’t have enough time for them.

Maybe now that this “Gray Man” world has been established the sequels can get into the headspace of Six, since there’s not much to go off of here. It all feels very broad, purposely going for style over substance, yet the style has two modes: loud and busy. If you just want a slick park-your-brain action flick, I suppose “The Gray Man” will suit you.






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