The Gray Man review: Ryan Gosling v Chris Evans is blockbuster thrill ride
Netflix's star-studded action movie from Avengers: Endgame's Russo brothers is a spectacle worthy of the biggest screen.
Don’t be fooled by the drab title, there’s no question that this Netflix-backed thriller is looking to dazzle you. Whilst it might only have a limited cinematic run before hitting the small screen, The Gray Man boasts the kind of spectacular action and globe-hopping pursuits more commonly associated with the theatrical experience. With a production budget of $200 million, it’s Netflix’s most expensive movie to date.
Based on the first in Mark Greaney’s book series, it sees Marvel’s finest, Anthony and Joe Russo (who directed four MCU instalments including Avengers: Endgame), return to form after their less well-received 2021 war drama Cherry. The Gray Man also represents a comeback of sorts for its star Ryan Gosling; it’s his first film since the 2018 Neil Armstrong biopic First Man.
The titular enigma is Gosling’s Court Gentry, aka “Six”, a convicted-killer-turned-ace-CIA-assassin, recruited as part of the top-secret Sierra programme by handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), who has come to view him with avuncular affection. When Six is called upon to take down one of his own, he’s handed an encrypted drive containing damning evidence relating to CIA Group Chief Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page), who has been hastily covering his tracks.
After Six scarpers, Carmichael sends his right-hand psycho, the unscrupulous contractor Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), after him. But with Six trained to be a ghost, he proves a very slippery customer indeed. Julia Butters plays Fitzroy’s precocious young niece Claire, who is kidnapped by Hansen, while Ana de Armas is CIA agent Dani Miranda, who has her own suspicions regarding Carmichael, and Jessica Henwick is Carmichael’s tainted-by-association deputy Suzanne Brewer.
The one-upmanship between Gosling’s cool customer and Evans’s unabashed and more easily incensed cretin keeps the tension simmering and banter flowing. Casting off Captain America’s righteousness with glee, Evans is clearly enjoying himself as he builds on the deranged levels of entitlement he displayed in Knives Out, and does so whilst sporting a real talking point of a moustache.
Stephen F Windon’s cinematography could hardly be slicker (he’s a veteran of the Fast franchise, so is well-used to capturing turbo-paced action). And with Joe Russo teaming up with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who wrote Endgame and Captain America: Civil War amongst others) on the screenplay, the dialogue is snappy and knowing, even if the trio succumb to a few too many narrative cliches along the way.
The film delights in the chaos and destruction as a bounty is put on Six’s head and assassins rain down upon him John Wick-style (it really does a number on Prague in particular). It also owes a significant debt to the Bond series, which is explicitly acknowledged when Six jokes about the number 007 already being taken. The presence of recent Bond girl De Armas is another unavoidable association, though she’s in less of an eye candy role here, with her character’s style more sharp than sexy. Dani is not a particularly pivotal character (the women here aren’t exactly sidelined but they don’t feel as interestingly written as the men), yet she’s a capable accomplice who gets Six out of some tight spots.
Six’s shift from lone wolf to prospective father figure when he’s called upon to protect Claire also mimics Bond’s arc in No Time to Die, whilst reminding us of how well Gosling works with kids (see The Nice Guys for another fine example). But, thanks to the Canadian actor’s irresistible shtick, his protagonist feels very little like Bond; despite Six’s hard body, tough-guy takedowns and taciturn nature, Gosling brings inherent warmth and affability to the role, once again showing a lovely line in faint amusement.
If the Russos’ well-honed flair for audacious spectacle is something to be savoured, the impact will undoubtedly be diminished by small screen viewing, so do see this in the cinema if you can. A touch more heft in the, admittedly imaginative, fight scenes and a few more surprises in the script would have been welcome but it undoubtedly sets things up promisingly. With a fundamentally appealing, well-cast hero at its core and a commitment to eye-catching and expensively executed thrills, The Gray Man does more than enough to pave the way for future instalments.
The Gray Man will be released in select UK cinemas on 15th July 2022, and will available to stream globally on Netflix from 22nd July 2022.
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