Anthony and Joe Russo
Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Billy Bob Thornton, Julia Butters, Alfre Woodard, Dhanush, Wagner Moura, Eme Ikwuakor, Robert Kazinsky, DeObia Oparei, Callan Mulvey and Shea Whigham
When the CIA’s most skilled operative – whose identity is known to none – accidentally uncovers dark agency secrets, a psychopathic former colleague puts a bounty on his head, setting off a global manhunt by international assassins.
Following on from Apple original film Cherry last year, the Russo Brothers return with another film adaptation of a novel, this time Mark Greaney’s debut novel The Gray Man. The film focuses on CIA operative Sierra Six, who is plucked from a Florida state penitentiary and recruited by his handler, Donald Fitzroy. Six is a highly-skilled, agency-sanctioned merchant of death, but when he is on assignment to take out a target in Bangkok, the tables turn and he becomes a target, being hunted across the globe by Lloyd Hansen, a former cohort at the CIA, who will stop at nothing to take him out.
The Russo Brothers take the reins here with a vehicle that Netflix is hoping to spawn a franchise as The Gray Man is one of the expensive original films for the company. During the course of the film, you definitely get a feel of that budget from the dozen locations, particularly in the scenes involving Bangkok and Prague, as well as the scale of the action sequences that were shot in those locations in question. The Russo Brothers have been making a name for themselves in terms of directing action on a grand scale, from the Captain America to the Avengers sequels over at Marvel Studios, and for the most part I thought the action was well constructed and executed. While there’s plenty of close-up/fast-cuts, they still allow for some wide shots and hold the shot for longer than usual to showcase the fight choreography. Granted, with the scale of the action, there are some scenes of destruction that involve some cartoonish CGI. With a two-hour runtime, despite it essentially being a cat-and-mouse style thriller, there is still some history about the characters and the agency (for example the Sierra program) that is dropped throughout the film that feels like they’ve even planted seeds for potential spinoffs.
And with that is half of The Gray Man’s problem. We’re giving brief flashbacks to Sierra Six’s childhood, and while they provide scenes with a blink and you’ll miss him appearance from Shea Whigham, it feels like some more scenes of his backstory has been left on the cutting floor here (or may be re-used if a sequel gets the green light) and instead we get scene with a lot of posturing, and I mean a lot of posturing, filled with cliched dialogue that unfortunately makes the film feel very generic. Ryan Gosling gets to showcase his action talents, as we know from his previous performances like Drive, he definitely has the stoic presence to carry this kind of role, and I thought he was good here as Sierra Six. His character is humorous at the right moments and the character himself is easy enough to root for. Chris Evans is really shading away in this post-Steve Rogers/Captain America era and he absolutely has a blast playing the role of psychopath with a gun and a tache, Lloyd Hansen. There a certain tiny moments he provides in the film, particularly in the climatic final act, that I loved, and he brings a sense of enjoyment in an all-too-serious environment. Ana de Armas gives a solid performance as Agent Dani Miranda, and I’m sure there will be similarities brought up between her character here and her character in No Time To Die. In terms of supporting I felt Billy Bob Thornton was fine, doesn’t really get much to do material wise, Julia Butters is also fine as Donald’s young daughter Claire, but in terms of the supporting talent that really stands out is Dhanush as Avik San, an assassin with a moral code.
Netflix at the minute are hoping that The Gray Man will take-off as a franchise, and while there’s plenty of action and a talented ensemble, it still feels pretty generic.