Ever since its announcement, Anthony and Joe Russo’s The Gray Man has been hotly anticipated. Sporting one of the largest budgets ever for a Netflix movie, a star studded cast that features Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, and some massive Marvel Cinematic Universe firepower behind the camera, the deck on this project is firmly stacked. The stakes are pretty high when it comes to this adaptation of author Mark Greaney’s initial entry to the Gray Man series – which presents the question of whether or not this gigantic effort was worth the risk.
Simply put, the Russo brothers have committed to a movie so full of action and destruction that it feels like they’re gleefully destroying a very expensive LEGO set before your very eyes. Yes, The Gray Man is as much fun as that description implies.
Following the exploits of ex-con turned covert operative Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling), The Gray Man sees the man known as Sierra Six entering a bit of hot water in his professional life. After a high profile hit forces Court to start questioning his very profession, some sensitive information in his possession turns the loyal soldier into a wanted man. Court is chased by the gleefully sadistic Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), and there’s no lengths his handlers will forego to make sure their secrets are protected. Unfortunately for them, Court’s resolve is equal to, if not greater than those efforts.
Fans of espionage thrillers should easily love The Gray Man, as the film revels in familiar genre shorthand to fill in its backstory.
With non-stop action, quick witted scripting, and a very happy Chris Evans playing the villain to Ryan Gosling’s hero, The Gray Man pulls no punches. Stopping for only brief moments to let its characters patch up and plan their next moves, the movie is an action-adventure feature filled to the brim. As a result, your mileage may vary depending on your tastes in espionage thrillers, as a lot of staples of the genre are used to fill in the backstory.
You are going to hear a lot of familiar phrases that spy thrillers like The Bourne Identity or Mission: Impossible have made hallmarks in the spy movie landscape. Things are definitely “above your paygrade,” and Court Gentry has indeed been “trained to be a ghost.” Rather than lazily use these lines as a thin thread to tie together this particular universe, writers Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely use those old chestnuts to give The Gray Man a texture that’s firm but familiar.
The Russo brothers’ time spent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to have given them a great deal of experience in making familiar storylines new again. While nothing in The Gray Man's overall plot is particularly groundbreaking, it's certainly respected and used properly to set up and pay off any action that results. A massive set-piece in Vienna is the exemplary example of such a notion, as Ryan Gosling's sarcastic comedic sensibilities shine in a moment as simple as trying to retrieve a handgun while being pinned down by every available mercenary in the area.
Even in an all-star cast fully committed to this film’s reality, Chris Evans almost steals the entire movie.
It certainly helps when you can have classic spy caper lines like those previously mentioned delivered with the right amount of self-aware conviction. The Gray Man’s cast is totally on board for that sort of thing, as hearing actors like Regé-Jean Page, Chris Evans, Alfre Woodard, and Billy Bob Thornton using that language helps make it all fresh and effective. Of course, it also helps that there’s a heaping dose of added charm that seals the deal in each of those cases.
Every member of The Gray Man’s cast holds their own, without exception. A perfect example of this working like a charm is a brief interlude that fills in the relationship between Ryan Gosling’s Court Gentry and Claire Fitzroy (Julia Butters), the niece of his mentor (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Gosling and Butters trade barbs from the first time they meet on-screen, and it never feels forced or precocious. For those that loved Julia Butters’ big debut in Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, the role of Claire only further cashes in on her impressive abilities.
However, even with a murderer’s row of talent in The Gray Man, it's Chris Evans that nearly steals the whole film. Lloyd Hansen is a fantastically villainous foil to Court Gentry, and Evans digs into this enterprise with a knife and fork in hand. Every threat, every put down, and every angry outburst is a treat to behold. If Kevin Kline’s comedic hitman from A Fish Called Wanda had a more menacing brother who actually did work for the clandestine services, it’d be Chris Evans’ Lloyd.
The Russo Brothers have gone all out in adapting The Gray Man as a pure cinematic action spectacle worthy of the potential franchise it teases.
The Gray Man wastes none of the time or resources it’s given when it comes to entertaining its audience. Almost from the word go, Henry Jackman’s propulsive score sets the tone, while cinematographer Stephen F. Windon’s keen eye captures the colorful and destructive magic brilliantly. Literally using a set piece that involves two men fighting amid an ongoing fireworks show as its first major thrill, the Russos clearly know what they’re doing.
What starts out as feeling like a ridiculous and over the top film turns into a sustained environment that proves its larger than life approach is deliberate. Once you settle into what The Gray Man is doing, the movie takes off like one of the many rockets Ana de Armas gets to fire off while teaming with Ryan Gosling in action. Winding up with a hell of a climax, and the promise of further adventures that’s almost a standard feature for a project like this, you’ll actually want to see what happens next in the world of Ryan Gosling’s slick spy hero.
Properly executed action packed spectacles are hard to come by, as without the proper pacing or backstory everything tends to ring a bit hollow. While The Gray Man is relentlessly paced, it knows when to provide just enough answers to keep the stakes relatable. Put together like an efficient, crowd pleasing machine, it’s a film that is exacting in its entertainment. This is an adventure built of speed, snark, and ‘staches, delivering on each of those fronts with precision and maximum thrills.
If you can get to a theater to see The Gray Man before it arrives on Netflix, it’s not only recommended, but I would consider it absolutely necessary. Just when you think this movie can't go bigger, it calls that bet and surpasses what you thought was coming next. All the while it never loses steam or step in the process. While a wild ride such as this will play well enough at home, the film in question is such a throwback to the best action-adventures of the past that it really belongs on the largest screen possible.
Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.