The Gray Man is gripping, tense, and action-packed, with an action turn by Gosling that is as thrilling as much as it is disarming.
This review of The Gray Man is spoiler-free.
The Russo Brothers’ (Avengers: Endgame) latest film, The Gray Man, fulfills that craving for spectacular American summer action fare. It certainly has some flaws, but the Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans vehicle is gripping, tense, and action-packed. This Netflix film never takes its foot off the peddle, and there is one piece that makes that non-stop action go down smoothly — Ryan Gosling. His turn as Six lands him in an action film, possibly a franchise, worthy of his talents. His use of a sharp wit and dry sense of humor allows the film to be disarming. Even to let in a deep breath or two.
Based on the book of the same name by Mark Greenway, the story follows an agent with no file named Six (Gosling). He is the last agent from the Sierra program and has been the CIA’s most valuable asset for 25 years. While on a mission with his partner Dani (played by Ana de Armas), he comes across information on some illegal CIA dealings. Of course, if exposed, this could send everyone to prison. That includes the morals-free agent, Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page), and his right hand, Suzanna Brewer (Jessica Henwick).
One of his allies is Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), the former head of the Sierra program, who recruited Six. In fact, he pulled him out of prison when he was inside for murder. (Don’t worry; he is the killer with a reason and a heart of gold). Six secretly comes to him with the information he has uncovered. Carmichael hires a psychopath on the payroll who loves his job a little too much. That man is Lloyd (Chris Evans, reveling in his over-the-top role here), and he is tasked with chasing him down. And soon, things turn sideways quickly. How? Lloyd kidnaps Fitzroy’s niece, Claire (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Julia Butters, who is building quite the resume). However, Lloyd and the CIA do not realize that Donald and Claire are the only “family” in Six’s life.
The adaptation by Joe Russo and Christopher Markus (Captain America: Civil War) is a better film than the Russo’s last film and vanity project, Cherry. The Gray Man never has trouble keeping a breakneck action pace. Some may find the consistent action scenes overwrought, but the well-placed humor and even Evan’s cartoonish spin on his villain character keep the experience fun and never too dark. However, that does not take away from the breathtaking, merciless action.
Speaking of the action, you will find the end of two terrific set pieces, the fight on the military cargo plane and the chase scene on a train, have heavy use of CGI. This took me out of the experience a bit, which may distract the audience from the riveting exertions that play out. Also, the backstory behind Gosling’s Six is barely touched upon and then is used in a way that motivates his character, which seems needless. And if you found Evan’s Lloyd excessive, Page’s slow-cooked and brooding take on a man who only sees people as numbers is just as absurd, just not showy.
While The Gray Man also overstays its welcome for a scene too long, this is a well-made action picture. Most of the credit should go to Gosling, whose deadpan delivery of Russo and Markus’s script genuinely allays. It is a rare combination of hand-to-hand combat you would see in John Wick. Yet it has a grizzled everyman quality attitude that draws comparisons to the character of John McClane. This is not the action film of the year. That title is owned by Top Gun: Maverick. However, the Russo Brothers’ film certainly gives Cruise and company a run for their money.
Overall, this is a wicked good time.