If there is such a thing as comic book adaptation fatigue than the same theory should also apply to Netflix original movies. Every month like clockwork, a new unnecessarily big budget film is released to the streaming service. A fraction of the 80 or so original films are decent and even less turn out to be a success for Netflix. The latest film, The Gray Man directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely of MCU acclaim is but another film that has a lot of promise given the impressive cast but ultimately falls just shy of accomplishing anything extraordinary with the allotted time.
Based on the novel of the same name by Mark Greaney, much of the DNA of The Gray Man has been done before and executed better. The downside to an action thrillerbegins with its derivative nature. After a while, they all blend together with a standout coming along every few years to remind the genre how fresh and entertaining it can be. Boasting an impressive cast and action sequences are the only two elements that make The Gray Man worth the watch. In this case, having Netflix behind it turns out to do more harm than good since the streamer fairs rather poorly with getting the word out about their new films dropping.
The film follows Courtland Gentry aka Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) as he is recruited from prison by Don Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to become a government assassin. Fast forward sometime later and Six decides to go rogue during a mission. His target supplies Six with a drive of incriminating evidence against a CIA official Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page). To stop the evidence from leaking, Carmichael contracts former CIA agent Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) and his facial hair to retrieve the evidence and take out Six by any means necessary.
Evans reuniting with his Captain America: Winter Soldier & Civil War directors should be enough to pique an interest with the addition of a mustache. Add in Markus and McFeely and a score turned in by Henry Jackman and it’s basically a reunion. Immediately I was on board with the choice of facial hair, at this point it’s unfair how cool Evans can look with it, even playing the generically written villainous role, his charisma bursts out on screen. Opposite Evans is Gosling who more often is the damsel being saved by fellow CIA agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas).
About midway through the 2 hour and change film, Lloyd calls Six a life size Ken doll. Coincidence that Gosling will be playing Ken in next year’s Greta Gerwig directed Barbie film based on the popular fashion toy. Or was it strategically written in by screenwriters Markus and McFeely to allude to the actors next role? Whatever the case may be, that one line of dialogue and its purpose will be more of a lasting impression than the entirety of the film. It’s a shame as the accomplishments of the Russo brothers with speaks volumes.
Without the backing and support of Marvel Studios, the Russo’s have struggled to keep their heads afloat. Last year’s Cherry didn’t live up to the expectation placed upon its shoulders though Tom Holland did give an outstanding performance. As producers, the directing brother’s had a hand in 21 Bridges with the late great Chadwick Boseman and Extraction with Chris Hemsworth that fell into the same category of serviceable action thriller romps while this years Everything Everywhere All at Once dazzled and soared way beyond its potential. Much of that success came from Daniels direction and a number of other variables. Post Endgame the struggles have come forward, but the directors are still a top draw in whatever project they work on next.
Aside from the well-choreographed action sequences and the performances, The Gray Man falls into the same cliché the genre boasts. Capturing the action sequences is cinematographer Stephen F. Windon who inputs the use of drone shots throughout – weaving in and around the action, the use of the drone becomes a distraction during the carnage – moments that should be more intimate but are instead emotionless and empty. Characters are just going through the motions of survival with no real stakes other than loss of an ally.
Sometimes having an empty calorie meal is worth the risk of the added guilt. In no way, shape or form did this film have to be 200 million dollars – its budget is completely unnecessary – style over substance. But It’s a distraction for 2 hours from the real world – enjoyable enough escapism without having to become fully invested in the under-developed characters and their motivations. I lost count of how many exotic locales these characters visited but it’s gorgeous, nonetheless. There’s a lot of good within The Gray Man but its shortcomings far outweigh any potential this ambitious undertaking had.
I am however on board with a sequel only if that sequel follows Lloyd’s mustache in pursuit of Six or a mustache spin-off since both were ordered by the streamer. That and more Jessica Henwick who does far better acting than Ana de Armas in her limited role.
Written By: Joe Russo, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Directed By: Anthony & Joe Ruso
Music By: Henry Jackman
Cinematography: Stephen F. Windon
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, Billy Bob Thornton
Where to Watch: Netflix
Release Date: July 22, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 9 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%
Based On: The Gray Man by Mark Greaney