THE GRAY MAN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Reger-Jean Page, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfre Woodard, Jessica Henwick, Dhanush, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Shea Whigham, Callan Mulvey.

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This generic globe-trotting action thriller comes across like James Bond on steroids. The Gray Man is based on the 2009 thriller written by Mark Greaney, who was a frequent collaborator with the late Tom Clancy and is credited with writing some of the recent Jack Ryan novels. The Gray Man introduces us to Court Gentry (played here by Ryan Gosling), who is serving time in prison for murder when he is recruited by his mentor Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to become a top assassin for a covert arm of the CIA. He is good at his job as Gentry doesn’t officially exist but operates in the gray areas, as Fitzroy says. His call sign is Sierra Six and he is part Bond, part Jason Bourne and part John Wick.  

When the film opens Gentry is in Bangkok charged with taking out a mysterious stranger who somehow poses a threat to powerful people. But then he learns that his target is another Sierra operative who apparently has gathered incriminating evidence against their sleazy boss Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page, from Bridgerton, etc), who has been running his own secret assassination ring using CIA operatives. He is now trying to cover his tracks by eliminating all traces of the Sierra program. Gentry is given a USB device that contains the evidence. Carmichael charges Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) with retrieving the USB. But Hansen is an out and out psychopath who is less than subtle in his approach. He unleashes an army of mercenaries and top assassins after Gentry, which results in a huge body count and a trail of destruction and carnage across Europe. 

The Gray Man has been loosely adapted from Greaney’s novel by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley (veterans from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) together with Joe Russo (Avengers: Infinity War, etc), and it ticks all the usual genre cliches. The whole thing lacks credibility, but it is never boring. 

Joe co-directs with his brother Anthony, and they keep things moving along at a fast pace that rarely lets up. Having helmed several films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the siblings are no strangers to staging large and extravagant action sequences and wreaking widespread destruction in their films. Here they stage several bruising encounters between Gentry and his pursuers, including a spectacular shootout in the centre of Prague with Gentry caught between several armed policemen and a quasi-military force. There is also a sequence involving a chase and shootout with an out-of-control tram careening through the streets of Prague, which has been deftly edited by Jeff Groth (Joker, etc) and Oscar winner Pietro Scalia (Black Hawk Down, etc).  

The Gray Man is an ambitious attempt to potentially kick start a new spy movie franchise. Gosling is largely cast against type as the indestructible action hero, but he brings his usual brooding quality and a dry sense of humour to the role. He also proves quite adept with the physicality of the role and acquits himself well. Evans chews the scenery with his over-the-top performance as the psychopathic Hansen and he turns the character into a cliched cartoonish comic book villain. Evans revels in his bad boy role here, spitting out his dialogue with venomous glee, and he does all but twirl his moustache. The banter between him and Gosling is one of the unexpected delights of the film.  

The Russo brothers have assembled a solid supporting cast to bring to life the characters, including Alfre Woodard in a small but important role and Tamil star Dhanush. Thornton brings a touch of droll humour to his role as Fitzroy. Ana de Armas, recently seen in the Bond film No Time To Die acquits herself well in a physically demanding role and is given a lot more to do here as Dani Mirana, a CIA agent who sometimes helps Gentry and sometimes hinders him. 

Budgeted at some $200 million, The Gray Man is the most expensive film yet produced by streaming giant Netflix, and most of the budget can be seen on screen. Some of the stunts and action set pieces are truly spectacular and superbly staged. The film has been shot on exotic locations ranging from Prague to France by Australian born cinematographer Stephen F Windon (several of the Fast & Furious films, etc) and deserves to be seen on the big screen. 

★★★☆

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