There’s a scene in one of the many Eastern European cities that is used as a location in The Russo Brothers’ ‘The Gray Man’ that is really the pinnacle of what this movie has to offer. It’s a fast-paced action sequence that feels like it plays out for a good 15 minutes.
There’s a shoot-out in a public plaza that escalates into a full-blown war zone that involves a high-speed car chase with a tram, high-powered assault rifles, and a beautiful luxury sports car, while the lead character carries on a gunfight inside the train. It’s a huge setup with explosions and people almost getting run over, cars toppling over and exploding. It’s fast-paced and hard-hitting and the stunt choreography and camera coverage are incredible.
Watching this at the cinema in a special advanced screening makes me wish that people will get to watch this movie in this format rather than on their phones or laptop screens because it’s the kind of blockbuster spectacle that is made for the big screen.
‘The Gray Man’ has an old-school action film vibe, where the bad guys are completely lacking in nuance and the story is thin but the enjoyment comes from all the spills and thrills.
It begins with an introduction to our protagonist, Ryan Gosling’s unnamed character who is recruited by the CIA to become a dispensable killing machine, a Black Ops assassin with no record at all for plausible deniability. He is given the name Six and the film immediately jumps forward in time to his most recent mission, where he discovers that the change of guard in US politics meant the Sierra program that he is part of is being taken down and his life is in danger.
Now, on the run, he has to escape the new bosses at the CIA who are tying up loose ends.
But how do you catch one of the deadliest assassins in the world? By hiring the equally skilled and dangerous (and possibly sociopathic) private contractor Lloyd Hansen, played by Chris Evans. In less than 15 minutes, you have two of Hollywood’s charming and attractive leading men, Gosling and Evans, battling it out over Eastern Europe and it’s a joy to watch.
Gosling’s Six is a quiet, lone wolf type, though he is not above an occasional witty remark. We know how charming he can be from films like ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ and ‘La La Land’ but he tones it down for the gruff, silent killer type who grunts as much as he speaks but despite his frighteningly impressive action hero image in this film, there’s a relatability that he brings to Six that attaches himself to audience pretty quickly.
On the other hand, Evans is obviously having a blast playing the villain. He’s as charming as he is brutal and sadistic and cruel. And he’s also unafraid to bring out his excellent comedic timing for some really great comic moments that keep the energy up.
The film runs a little over 2 hours and surprisingly, there’s very little in terms of character development or a story arc. There’s no complicated plot nor any overly ambitious save-the-world narrative involved in this film. It’s a brawl and a gunfight and it’s loud and explosive. Everything from cars, trains, airplanes, and helicopters at some point explode or topple over. Our heroes get punched, kicked, stabbed, and even shot and still manage to carry on and fight.
And it’s this simplicity that gives ‘The Gray Man’ a hollowness to it – no real exploration of the abuse of government power, the effects of geopolitics on this scale, the cost and value of human lives – but it also makes it really easy to watch and really fun to just jump aboard on.
At the same time, directors Joe and Anthony Russo feel like they directed this film specifically for the Netflix viewer – people watching at home on their laptops or phones – and so they push the story down and ramp up the action and fast cuts and pacing so as to not allow the viewers to get distracted at all. Never is there a moment for you to press pause to answer the phone or to take a break to do house chores or online school work.
The film feels like they are aware that the medium this film will be shown, through streaming, means they can put what feels like a 15-minute flashback scene in the middle of the story, as they pivot the narrative towards a different direction.
There’s a freshness to the way this film is made because as big and loud as the film gets (and it constantly peaks) it doesn’t feel like it has to abide by any certain expectations as other films do. Of the many Netflix films I’ve seen in this genre like ‘Extraction’ or ‘The Old Guard,’ this is the one I feel really fits perfectly for streaming.
‘The Gray Man’ may not be deep or even moving, but it’s a whole lot of fun and the whole cast – from Gosling to Evans, to Ana de Armas and Jessica Henwick, to Rege-Jean Page, Alfre Woodard, and Billy Bob Thornton – it’s loaded with charisma and screen presence. I hope this becomes a hit because, as it is based on a series of books by Mark Greaney, they plan for this to be a franchise and I love to see more of it.
The Gray Man premieres on Netflix this Friday, July 22.
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