Ryan Gosling's long awaited return is not enough to save a disappointing action thriller.
Having not seen Ryan Gosling on the big screen since Damien Chazelle’s First Man (2018), The Gray Man, to me, almost felt like a cinematic event, albeit a smaller one since I watched it on Netflix. However, the Russo Brothers, arguably, deserve more credit for having directed four MCU films (with heights that remain unsurpassed since the release of Avengers: Endgame in 2019) and I was naturally excited to see their latest endeavour.
The film begins with Gosling’s nameless character, essentially, signing his autonomy away to the government. In exchange for his services as a secret hit-man – under the alias, Sierra Six – our protagonist is able to leave his prison cell. However, it becomes apparent quickly that he is at the mercy of his superiors. After executing another member of the Sierra Team in a job for the CIA, Six stumbles upon a hard drive full of internal conspiracy and corruption, entering a cat and mouse predicament between him and a psychotic private agent, hired by the CIA to capture the former, called Lloyd Hansen (played by Chris Evans).
This is where my main problem with the film/narrative lies. We know Chris Evans can play a villain as we have seen in the likes of Knives Out, but here his sadistic nature is so exaggerated that it ends up feeling cartoonish. Furthermore, we don’t really know what is on the hard drive that Gosling has, but it’s never believable that the situation is so desperate that an official would hire an unpredictable and, purportedly, dangerous character. The film suggests they had some bromance in college, but this feels like an incredibly flimsy reason. Collateral damage is a big theme throughout the film, as we see Six refuse to potentially kill a child along with his target in the opening scene. This basic human decency is not shared by the majority of other characters, as it becomes evident in one of the major shootouts in Prague that witnesses countless Czech police and citizens getting murdered/killed in crossfire by the undercover CIA with absolutely no visible consequences. Lloyd has complete power to make these dangerous decisions, despite having been fired from the CIA before for his reckless and psychopathic behaviour, and it just leaves these sorts of scenes feeling unconvincing. Whole cities were destroyed in the Avengers films, but even then the consequences have been explored and that, at least, fits the fantastical tone of the franchise, as they fight otherworldly beings. Whereas here, there should be more validity, and when the scenes aren’t believable, it’s hard to invest in them. This scene also features the city’s tram somehow having its speed ramped up to that of a high-speed car chase, devastating pedestrian cars.
It’s incredible that Netflix films such as this and last year’s Red Notice have a bigger budget than the last Mission Impossible film, especially as there is a plane fight scene here that is edited so quickly that you can hardly see what is happening, except for the shots of an obviously CGIed plane. A lot of the fighting feels overly choreographed and, sadly, again just doesn’t look believable enough, with the exception of the final showdown between Gosling and Evans (although that is greatly helped by the star charismas of both)
Nonetheless, despite my criticisms, The Gray Man is not awful. I will say that Ryan Gosling is so good here that he almost saves the film; his role is a great mix of the serious loner character – that we see in films like Drive – and the sweetness and charm of La La Land. Ana de Amas is captivating as always. You can certainly tell that Chris Evans enjoyed his role, but I just feel unconvinced by the CIA hiring him. Overall, you may have fun with The Gray Man, and whilst I’m sure many will see it on Netflix, I doubt many would view it more than once.
*MCU expands to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Gray Man is out now via. Netflix. You can watch the trailer below: