Following their highly successful tenure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the directing duo known as the Russo Brothers have begun to branch out in their filmography. With Oscar bait Cherry, the directors dipped their toes into the stream service game. Now, they’ve plunged into it headfirst with The Gray Man. Returning to their espionage thriller roots that made them so successful with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Gray Man follows agent Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) on the run with a USB MacGuffin while handler Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) in a relentless pursuit of him.
The cast, rounded out by Ana de Armas, Dhanush, Billy Bob Thorton, Jessica Henwick, and Julia Butters, make The Gray Man a bold ensemble, though nowhere near the scope of the Russo’s Avengers films. Try as they may, the Russos can’t seem to replicate the success of their Marvel films, with the film being an entertaining but ultimately hollow piece of streaming entertainment.
Watching the film, you notice some semblance of the Russo Brothers’ personality in The Gray Man, with an opening sequence that sets things up creatively. The production design and the overall scope of The Gray Man are massive, with the Russo’s fully taking advantage of that Netflix money. The film is international, with so many colorful locales that are used as a backdrop for one creative action sequence after another.
Ryan Gosling’s character, agent Sierra Six, is at the center of most (if not all) the action sequences in The Gray Man. Gosling plays the character with charm, as the suave and lethal Six is as tough as they come. The Gray Man is interesting in that regard, using Gosling’s Six as something of a straight man opposite the exuberant scenery chewing Evans as CIA contract agent Lloyd Hansen. Evans as Lloyd steals the show with every scene he’s in, hamming it up at every opportunity. The film throws Ana de Armas in for good measure as an operative looking to get her career back on track.
In between all the intense and well-choreographed action is some semblance of a story between Six and Lloyd. The dynamic is undoubtedly used in the film, but not to its full extent. The possibilities are endless for the film to be more engaging, and put the incredible dynamic that Gosling and Evans have in this film to good use. Every scene that featured the two acting opposite each other showed hints of a better Gray Man film that could have been.
Dhanush as Avik San hardly has screen time, with some of the film’s most exciting choreography and action. Henwick and Rege-Jean Page play stereotypical one-note bureaucratic agents who pull the strings on the physical types like Gosling and Evans. Overall, despite some exciting chemistry and fantastic action, The Gray Man plays everything relatively safe.
That in and of itself is ironic, considering the team behind The Gray Man (The Russos and screenwriters Markus and McFeely) re-imagined franchises like Captain America and the Avengers with exciting and almost subversive takes. The Gray Man is a very entertaining film carried by the acting prowess of Evans and Gosling, with some genuinely remarkable action and creative set pieces. However, there’s an even better movie somewhere in there, buried beneath all the usual monotonous Netflix pacing and story. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Rating – 6.5/10
The Gray Man is Now Playing in Theaters and Streaming on Netflix on July 22nd.