The Russo Brothers, who brought their A-game with Avengers: Endgame, try their hand at a much more traditional action film.
How does one make a good action film? You need some cool people involved who preferably are traditionally attractive and fit Western beauty standards. You also need guns, lots of guns, with a side of fiery explosions. And a little humour wouldn’t hurt either, a few jokes on either side of stabbings, shootings and derailing of trains will make the medicine go down nicely.
Netflix’s latest event film The Gray Man has all of these elements. All in all, it should be a very good action film and for the most part, it is, but The Gray Man often slips into forgettable mush. It’s a shame because there’s something distinctively 90s about this crime thriller. Bad men in suits, shady assassins and some woefully bad CGI mixed with campy humour – there’s worse ways to spend a couple hours.
Ryan Gosling is our protagonist of sorts. He plays a man without a name, codename Sierra Six, a deadly hitman working for the CIA, off the books for obvious reasons. He comes into possession of some very sensitive information about his boss Denny (Regé-Jean Page). This makes Denny very uncomfortable so he sends the somewhat psychotic Lloyd (Chris Evans with a mighty moustache) after Sierra Six. Violence ensues.
The Gray Man certainly doesn’t try to wow you with its plot, which plays out exactly like you’d expect it to. There are no twists or surprises but in all honesty, it doesn’t need any. Why would it? The Gray Man has two of the most attractive people on the planet playing delightfully caricature-like characters. This might sound like a criticism, but it really isn’t, because The Gray Man is, despite all its obvious flaws, very fun and entertaining.
Kudos to the Russos also for giving Ana De Armas something to do finally. The actress was criminally underused in No Time To Die, but finally gets to kick some ass here, even if her role is rather simple and her character shallow. Jessica Henwick is less well served as she mostly just stares at various screens and occasionally argues with Regé-Jean Page.
It all comes down to Gosling and Evans. Evans especially is clearly having the time of his life playing against his normal type and does a great job at it too. Lloyd is evil, borderline insane, but Evans plays him with a twinkle in his eyes, lacing him with wit and humour to undercut the brutality.
Gosling plays his character much more straight, which sometimes feels like a shame. Gosling remains one of the most charismatic actors in Hollywood – and he’s a very underrated comic actor, so when he’s allowed to crack a joke, the film comes alive and there’s some electricity on the screen again. The Gray Man works best when Evans and Gosling go head-to-head, not in the way of punches and bombs, but just in a battle of wits.
Evans and Gosling have great chemistry together; their contrasting characters bouncing off each other, creating a unique, fun dynamic. The two actors elevate the sometimes cliched and stale script, pretty much carrying the entire film.
The Russos do a decent job at directing all the action. The Gray Man is efficiently, almost manically edited, which makes the several action sequences muddled. The aim might have been to make them feel breathless, to sweep the viewer into the action, but it all just looks like a blur of bodies moving and colliding. The violence never feels quite as brutal as it could and certainly should, but a sequence in Vienna, which includes a tram, is a definite highlight.
The Gray Man is much better than it should be when the plot is this generic, but it still leaves some room for improvement. Gosling and Evans make the film work, but can’t save the stiff script. There’s a sweet sentimentality to the film, which isn’t explored enough and ultimately, the Russos can’t tip the scales to make us care about any of these characters.
The Gray Man is in cinemas July 15 and streaming on Netflix July 22.