The Gray Man – Film Review

At first, digital distribution of films was simply the new ‘straight to video’ for lower budgeted releases.

However, in the last few years, there has been a trend of films starring A-List actors with blockbuster budgets being produced by services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. It feels like only yesterday the record was being set with films like The Irishman and Bright but now every few months it seems we’re getting another feature film with a budget to rival the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe instalment being released online.

The Gray Man is an action thriller directed by Joe and Anthony Russo based on the first novel in a series penned by author Mark Greaney. It follows the highly skilled CIA assassin ‘Six’ (Ryan Gosling) on what begins as a standard mission which comes afoul when it appears he may inadvertently uncover secrets that they would prefer left in the dark.

Aided by his handler Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) and fellow special agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), Six embarks on a globetrotting adventure to uncover the truth, while his former agency send the psychopathic cleaner Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) to stop him at all costs.

I’ve seen a lot of people describing this movie as James Bond meets Fast and the Furious but I think that better applies to a film like XxX which was in itself a mindless action spy film that didn’t take itself seriously yet was made in competent manner and succeeded to the point that almost 20 years later, studios are still trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle. I think a more apt comparison would be that it is like Jack Reacher, a film based on a similar book series and banks heavily on its lead actor. Done in the same manner much like fellow Netflix flick Red Notice, another huge budgeted globetrotting action film with A-list stars, The Gray Man is an incredibly dull story with subpar action scenes which ultimately has no lasting appeal whatsoever.

Not mentioning some painful dialogue, this film really has the most cliché ridden ‘good agent goes rogue’ plot I’ve seen in a long time and where something like the Jason Bourne films were elevated by well-choreographed action set pieces and even ‘shaky-cam’ by director Paul Greengrass, the Russos simply don’t bring anything new to the table other than some really jarring drone camera work nor the look and sound of the CGI heavy superhero quip-fest movies they’re known for.

It’s no secret modern superhero films with their rushed development are released with weaker special visual effects. That may be forgivable when we’re talking about people in leotards throwing lightning bolts at each other but in a somewhat grounded action thriller with The Gray Man, it just brings the entire product down.

While this is so disappointing, 2020’s Extraction, another Netflix produced action thriller starring Chris Hemsworth and directed by veteran stunt performer and choreographer Sam Hargrave (both also working heavily on the MCU with the Russos) had excellent action scenes and fight choreography, much like John Wick. I like to think that Hollywood has learned from decades of Hong Kong action films and decided who better to handle overall directing duties than a skilled action choreographer. However, The Gray Man by comparison looks much more expensive yet feels lacklustre when nothing in the movie has weight to it save the one or two fistfights which haven’t been heavily rendered with a computer.

An issue I had with Red Notice was that its cast were frontloaded. That is to say, there were the three A-list actors as protagonists, and it felt like they saved money on the rest of the unrecognisable players. That’s not the issue here at all. I’m glad to say that The Gray Man has a star-studded line up and the film leans heavily on that as a selling point. The issue is that they’re all sleepwalking the whole way though.

Personally, the only thing that kill my excitement watching an action film more than the overuse of fake CGI is if the actors look as bored performing in the movie as I am watching it. Ryan Gosling looks more disinterested than ever, and this is someone known for playing wooden characters. Chris Evans at least stands out as he seems to be having a ball as the eccentric killer Lloyd in a game of cat and mouse with our apparently sedated hero.

Special mention also must go to Jessica Henwick playing Suzanne Brewer the agent tasked with handling Lloyd which is easier said than done. Recently she was seen in The Matrix Resurrections as Bugs and here she stands out as trying to do the best she can with what little she’s given to work with.

The Gray Man is a passable action flick which you will likely forget as soon as you’ve watched it. The term “turn your brain off” could be thrown around but I think it overlooks that with the talent and yes, with the money involved, The Gray Man had the potential to be a hell of lot better than it is.

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