Title:The Gray Man (2022) Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo Writers: Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely Stars: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas
Sierra Six is on the case. Infiltrating a high-end Bangkok nightclub, the lethal CIA operative tracks his target amidst the New Year’s celebrations. Revelers and fireworks mask the sounds of the hit that is about to take place. Pulling out an advanced weapon with X-Ray vision, the agent takes position. But a child gets in the way, and despite his handler’s commands to take the shot, Sierra Six breaks off.
This is the setup of Netflix’s newest spy flick, The Gray Man. Directed by action maestros Anthony and Joe Russo, aka The Russo Brothers, it is a scenario we’ve seen many times before: The stone-cold assassin with a soft spot has to abort a mission because of an innocent child. Conspiracies and corrupt superiors further complicate the situation, and soon the agent is on the run from both sides of the law.
Starring Ryan Gosling as the elite agent Sierra Six, Ana de Armas as his sidekick Dani, and Chris Evans as the unhinged and murderous freelance operative Lloyd Hansen, The Gray Man delivers standard and formulaic action fare. And even though the action is over-the-top in true Russo style, it is far from the brothers at their best. It is polished, overly stylized and intense, but it never reaches anywhere near the levels of personality and heart like for instance Captain America: The Winter Soldier and their other work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One reason for this might be The Gray Man has action setpieces just for the sake of it. They might look good, if a bit generic and overly polished, but they never add much to the story. And too often, they devolve into a series of action shots with “cool guys doing cool stuff.” Expect a lot of posing, with characters that are so basic and underdeveloped that they can, for the most part, be described in one sentence or less. And even if The Gray Man might have helped to pad out many a stunt man’s resumes, I had hoped for a bit more story and personality somewhere in here.
But with a cast like this, it is strange, even heartbreaking, that The Gray Man feels so generic. Our protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling, is the silent, brooding type. I can easily see what he’s going for: under the stone-cold exterior of the professional hitman, his heart is competing for control with his PTSD. Ryan Gosling is an extremely talented actor, but here I quickly got the feeling that he was looking for a bit more direction and that he was phoning in an amalgamation of his earlier characters.
On the other side of the coin, we find Chris Evans, who, after his days as Marvel’s Captain America, seems to be doing everything he can to avoid getting typecast into the hero role. And in The Gray Man, he is laying it on thick! The psychopathic and murderous Lloyd Hansen is so cartoonishly villainous that it seems as if he is plucked straight out of a Bond movie. A Pierce Brosnan-era Bond movie.
I would have loved to see more of the otherwise excellent Ana de Armas, but her role as the professional agent Dani Miranda is sadly underdeveloped, and her motivation is never really explained. Sure, she does her fair share of action sequences, some so unbelievable that they’d be more at home in The Matrix. But this is a far cry from her short but memorable role in No Time to Die. I would have loved to see her as the main character in her own action flick, though.
I would, at this point, delve a bit more into the story, but it’s not really important. An agent is on the run, being hunted by assassins and government agents, and a girl needs to be protected. There are some flashbacks that seem to be wedged into the story, further throwing off the film’s already uneven pacing. But you will probably not notice this for its story.
If I’m going to remember anything from The Gray Man a week from now, it will be some of the action scenes. And that’s good, right? This is an action movie; it’s why we’re here. I had just hoped that the Russo Brothers could have taken some of what they learned in their Marvel days and brought this into a spy thriller like this.
To conclude: The Gray Man tries to be Jason Bourne but ends up being more like Red Notice. Ouch.
The Gray Man premiers on Netflix on the 22nd of July.