Synopsis – When the CIA’s most skilled operative-whose true identity is known to none-accidentally uncovers dark agency secrets, a psychopathic former colleague puts a bounty on his head, setting off a global manhunt by international assassins.
My Take – I think it’s quite evident by now that Netflix is quite desperate to have a big blockbuster franchise to their name. With films like Bright (2017), 6 Underground (2019), Extraction (2020), Army of the Dead (2021) and Red Notice (2021) bringing in more miss than hit results.
In their latest attempt, the streaming giant throws all the money at the screen (a staggering budget of $200 million) for directors Joe and Anthony Russo, the men behind Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), for a rip-roaring spy romp that sees A-listers Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans go head to head.
The result being a decent enjoyable film that works like a mix mash of well proven franchises like Bourne, Mission Impossible and James Bond, but with all the quip banter and stylized action the Russos have come to be known for.
Adapted from Mark Greaney‘s 2009 novel of the same name, the film is an action-packed ride filled with out-and-out merciless fight scenes and bloodshed, stunts that come one after the other, some you wish were spaced out, yet are good enough to elevate it above the normal utterly throwaway Netflix blockbuster fare. The film also begs undivided attention of the viewer with its breakneck speed and breathless flitting of the plot across the globe.
A plot that is unfortunately mainly made up of old school clichés and let’s go of any complexity that existed in the novel, bringing down the overall effect of the film to more of a watchable affair than the desired memorable.
The Russo brothers, who have phenomenal success under their belt with their MCU films, like their previous Apple flick Cherry (2021), struggle a touch to replicate the panache that they brought to bear upon their previous outings. With about ten books left to be adapted, the film shows potential to become a franchise, and with better handling next time, it sure can kick off a proposed series of absurd action films.
Beginning in 2003, the story follows Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling), a convicted felon, who is offered freedom by Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), a Senior CIA official, in exchange for joining his shadow program called Sierra, where he will be trained as an assassin to take down off the book targets for the agency. Eighteen years later, Court, now code named Sierra Six, has built quite a reputation for himself, that is until a mission in Bangkok with fellow CIA agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) doesn’t go as planned.
Ordered by Fitzroy’s successor Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page) to take down the target as he is suspected of selling national security secrets, however, Six’s outlook on the agency’s targets changes when he stumbles upon sensitive information. Information Carmichael and his subordinate Suzanne Brewer (Jessica Henwick) want suppressed, forcing Six to go rogue.
Determined to destroy all evidence, Carmichael hires Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), a former CIA agent known for his sociopathic tendencies, to rain a bunch of international assassins, including Avik San (Dhanush), to hunt down the fugitive at all costs.
The film has all the elements of a formulaic spy genre from thumb drives, kidnapped family members to bureaucrats being the real villains. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who are also co-producers of the film, bring a screenplay written by the latter with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to the screen in a directorial style that banks heavily on explosions, chases and thrills. No sooner does one action sequence run its course than the ground is quickly cleared for the next one with an eye on delivering non-stop entertainment.
In one of the action highlights of the film, Six, handcuffed to a bench in Prague, takes on Lloyd’s men and a belligerent posse of policemen. It is the kind of high-octane, in-your-face passage that lifts the film appreciably when all else seems to be falling prey to the law of diminishing returns.
The film is peppered with numerous such stunts. But that is also a problem as the film isn’t really about the plot, nor is it about the screenplay. The driving force here is action and that’s just it. There is no directorial finesse, except for when the Russo brothers take us on an invigorating ride, moving seamlessly from one big stunt sequence to another or one big set piece to another.
The problem with the film is that the directors Joe and Anthony Russo are more concerned about rushing through it than telling a story in an organic manner. A result of which the relentless pyrotechnics that accompany Six’s feats and the amazing escapes that he pulls off are unable to fully paper over the storytelling slip-ups and unremarkable narrative devices.
For one, the film just jumps from one place to another, one new location every ten minutes or so in a 129 minutes that too at a pace too dizzying to allow for easy comprehension. It might have been more compelling if the directors Joe and Anthony Russo had slowed down long enough to focus on their excellent cast members.
Without a doubt, Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans have poured their heart and soul into their roles. Both are excellent, charismatic, and quite an eyeful. Gosling appears to have put in the effort to look competent on the fighting front, both in a variety of imaginative close combat sequences, and some bigger firearms ones that occasionally draw on innovation even in a world that seems to have been done to death. Evans is surprisingly effective as the sociopath Lloyd Hansen. His gruesomeness and his never-care-for-anyone attitude with humor packs a good punch. Leaving the viewers who have mostly known him for nice guy portrays like Captain America shocked.
Ana De Armas is superb, once again making a case for more action roles. Billy Bob Thornton and Alfre Woodard expectedly steal scenes they feature in with their quiet charismatic and sharp presence. Indian actor Dhanush has like a 10-minute role, and it’s all about merciless and bloodshed action.
Jessica Henwick is utterly one-note, but looks like a master opposite against a miscast Regé-Jean Page, who is struggling right from the first frame. Julia Butters is shortchanged but does well nonetheless, Wagner Moura is unrecognizable as the shady Laszlo Sosa. On the whole, ‘The Gray Man’ is an explosive and relentless action thriller that is more about popcorn entertainment and less about storytelling.
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 129 minutes