I finally got around to watching Netflix’s most expensive high-profile action extravaganza. For all the A-list talent and substantially stylized approach, The Gray Man is perfectly enjoyable for a Sunday afternoon on the couch but ultimately derivative of many other films of the same ilk.
The CIA’s most valuable, best-trained, black-ops assassin goes on a mission in Bangkok but stumbles across some dark agency secrets that land him in the crosshairs of their international manhunt.
If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. That’s the basic playbook for what seems like the vast majority of assassin movies: The world’s deadliest hitman also happens to mostly have a heart of gold and finds out that it’s really the agency he works for that’s bad absolving them of all complicit behavior just in time for them to become the hero. The upside is that you know what you’re getting, but the downside is that there is nothing to be gained.
I can only imagine how it really went down, but it probably went something like this: “Hey Russo Brothers! We love you guys!! People really loved the Bourne franchise, so we want to do that but make it sexy! Sexy Bourne! Did we mention we’ll give you a $200-million budget to make that happen?”
If you want to make something sexy, you go out and get Ryan Gosling. I don’t make the rules but, with $200-million at your disposal, you don’t stop there. Opposite Gosling is the owner of America’s ass, Chris Evans, who reportedly turned down the lead to play the villain. I am sure these two were paid a king’s ransom for this movie, but that still wasn’t enough. So, you turn to the woman who is about to star in an NC-17 portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, Ana de Armas. Still not enough? Okay, come on down Jessica Henwick. Gotta get the Bridgerton crowd though too, so step right up Regé-Jean Page. Add on Billy Bob Thorton and Alfre Woodard in some venerable supporting roles and Dhanush as stylish mystery man Avik San and that’s probably half the budget right there.
It was probably money well-spent as Gosling and Evans carry the film in the lulls between action scenes. There is more than enough charisma and screen presence between the two to keep things engaging, but Gosling’s character is pretty wooden in comparison to Evans’ eccentric, arrogant, sociopath. That’s certainly by design but both of them are fairly superficial, so it’s a testament to both actors that they squeezed every ounce of watchability out of their roles.
The Russo Brothers have been at the helm of several successful, big-budget projects and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have been right there with them for several of those including the massive Avengers two-part finale. This adaptation of Mark Greaney’s 2009 book deviates a bit from the original to keep it within the formula to avoid getting in over its head with global politics and keeping it firmly within the formula that I mentioned earlier. The screenplay uses some effective subtle humor that takes aim at its two lead characters’ social eccentricities, but overall it keeps its focus on the pace and application of its action.
The entertainment factor for this film is tied almost entirely to the action and it’s done well with some shades of Winter Soldier and Civil War. The visual palette keeps it pretty colorful too as the film tries to establish its presence globally even though there were a lot of stand-in locations. At the end of the day, it’s a style-over-substance kinda movie but there’s enough style to make it enjoyable.
Recommendation: If you gravitate towards Netflix’s action offerings, this is probably right up your alley but the average appeal is going to be the cast.
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